Think back 10 years. A whole ass decade ago. Were things simpler? More fun? Less stress? Easier to digest? More feeling and less doing?
Time can distort memory, in more ways than one. It had only been eight years since 9/11, and would be two more before Bin Laden was captured and killed. 2009 seems like distant history now, yet it was only four years removed from Hurricane Katrina.
The point is that time, and the events therein, often become a warped mess of reality and perception. And as we get older, we paint memories with broader brushes than actuality deserves.
I give that all-too-incomplete 21st century history lesson to say this: remember how much fun the first Passion Pit album was? You tell me if this sounds fun: “So now we see / Comes burying my burnt remains / These puddled clouds / Oh I, I understand now / But darkness falls likes shattered pieces / Dangling, shimmering / Torn and tattered and crowned / Oh I'll not be told ‘No’ to ‘No more!’"
Good times, no?
Manners, Passion Pit’s blindingly bright debut captures a brief moment in the last 10 years when pop hadn’t been overrun by EDM’s wave. The album exquisitely toes the line between energetic and haphazard with lyrics that are perplexingly dark given the poppy tone of the production and vocals. With cotton-candy melodies and Michael Angelakos’ infectious falsetto zipping around every track, Manners is more whimsical than it has any right to be. It’s layered sonically, but also thematically in the simplest way possible. The album sounds like a wedding but reads like someone running out of oxygen in a coffin in outer space.
The dark nature of Manners shouldn’t be such a shock, let the tracklist tell it. Titles like “The Reeling” and “Swimming in the Flood” don’t inspire the fun-loving sound inherent in them. Instead of dancing, we should be brooding. On the former, Angelakos laments digging himself into a hole he now regrettably inhabits, numb to the elements of a life he once lived. “Is this the way I’ve always been?” is a damning question, no matter the answer.
The magic of Manners is that you’re drawn to it for its wonderful melodies, but its surprisingly sobering lyrics require astute, if not repeated, listening. It’s like if vegetables somehow also tasted good.
The anthemic “Sleepyhead,” no doubt the soundtrack to hundreds of thousands of Molly-fueled adventures, might be the album’s most elusive and enigmatic cut. As Manners’ most popular song, it reflects the chemical imbalance of sound and words found throughout the album, using a sped-up sample of a traditional Irish folk song to anchor its refrain.
“Sleepyhead” is an orchestral mess of light and sound-calibrated mayhem. By the time the synths begin to truly fly around the speakers, Angelakos’ abstract nightmares are halfway formed and coming for you: “They crowd your bedroom like some thoughts wearing thin /
Against the walls, against your rules, against your skin” he wails against the beat of a steady thump coming from your closet door.
The difference between and, more importantly, balancing of, reality and perception are what make Manners a unique album. The myth of “simpler times” can be dangerous. But when it prompts us to reexamine a reality born of a toxic cocktail of memory, imagination, and the ether between the two, it becomes a useful point of orientation.
Manners was fun then, and is fun now. Fun, like art, is open to interpretation. Interpretation is subject to time. And time can change what was once fun, or how vegetables taste (I’ve come around to them over the course of writing this article).
However, one of the marks of a great album is the ability to develop new meaning and grow as time passes. Manners was, is, and will always be an album stuck out of time.