Thursday, November 13, 2008

Passion Pit - Chuck of Change EP (***)

2008 has smiled kindly on the extended-play format. This year alone has seen wonderful EPs from Animal Collective, The Clientele, The Mountain Goats, Crystal Stilts, Antony & the Johnsons, Crystal Antlers and Air France (to name but a few), a number of which will no doubt be showing up on more than a few high profile critic's top ten lists. And then there's Michael Angelakos, the one-man band behind the Passion Pit moniker, who originally recorded this EP as a Valentine's Day gift for his girlfriend. Making the story even more unlikely is that the record was actually good enough (and universal enough) to pass around to friends of Angelakos, who in turn spread the word about some of the most purely enjoyable bedroom electro-pop to come around in quite a while, eventually being picked up by Frenchkiss Records for wide release. At just about 30 minutes in length, Chunk of Change is also a much more substantial release than that EP descriptor would imply.

For a record made by a guy with not much more than an audience-of-one in mind, Chunk of Change is (with the exception of a few specific lyrics) surprisingly broad in its scope and equally meticulous in it's construction. Opener "I've Got Your Number" is the undeniable standout, as its irresistible multi-part hook builds to near incomprehensible heights over an undulating electronic backing. Angelakos' vocals, high, feminine and occasionally verging on the shrill (and I mean that in the best way possible), actually end up sending the song over the top, as he seemingly moves way beyond of his vocal range to deliver one of the best pure pop hooks of the year. Beyond that, it's one of the flat-out best songs I've heard in '08, and easily the most convincing evidence that Angelakos is a talent worth watching. Following a song of such unequivocal brilliance would be a difficult task for even the most seasoned of veterans, so I can't really criticize Angelakos for not scaling similar heights again because, well, that would be near unthinkable.

The rest of the EP then, while not quite as impressive, still holds numerous moments of infectious melodies and, more importantly, inventive arrangements. With every song hovering around the 5 minute mark - save the wonderfully brief closing track "Sleepyhead" - you'd think that these songs wouldn't be able to sustain their momentum above and beyond the more accepted 2 1/2 minute pop song length. Not so though, as Angelakos drops enough twists and turns into the structures of his tracks to keep things more than interesting for their duration. Not surprisingly then, what holds back some of these songs are the lyrics. Obviously, not the whole of the underground pop community was meant to hear these songs, but one assumes that some of the in-jokes and references wouldn't have been included had a larger audience been in mind (I'm thinking specifically of the cheeky "Cuddle Fuddle"). Angelakos never settles for a simple "I love you" though, and even if only his girlfriend could possibly pick up on all the details, there is simply no way to discount Angelakos' way with a melody. With the help of this EP, and the word of a full-length to come in early 2009, Passion Pit have now pushed their way to the front of next year's most anticipated list.

Highlights: "I've Got Your Number", "Smile Upon Me", "Sleepyhead"

"I've Got Your Number"


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