Artist to Watch: Passion Pit

Passion Pit
Passion Pit

As someone who uses Pandora as a tool for new music discovery and listens to WXPN, the great radio station operating out of Philadelphia’s University of Pennsylvania, and to the emerging artist channels on XM Radio, I sometimes hear a band I like and think to myself, “You know, I wish I blogged about them sooner. Now they’re everywhere.”

But then I realize the artist isn’t everywhere…just everywhere I go for new music. So even though “those in the know” are raving about a certain artist, when I bring that artist up in a conversation about music, I’m always stunned to hear that most of the people I’m talking to have no knowledge of said artist.

So while I may be late to the party among those who pay close attention to the music industry, that shouldn’t stop me from writing about certain artists. After all, if my blog post connects just a few more people to a deserving artist, it’s worth the time to write it.

For instance, in this piece — my first “artist to watch” post in ages, I’m going to take a look at Passion Pit, an electronic group out of Cambridge, Mass., fronted by songwriter Michael Angelakos. Their first full-length CD, “Manners,” was released back in May, but there was buzz about the band after the ecstatic reception to their 2008 EP, “Chunk of Change.”

Passion Pit also has an interesting “from out of nowhere” back-story. “Chunk of Change” actually began as a four-song CD that Angelakos — who was attending Emerson College at the time — made for his then-girlfriend as a Valentine’s Day gift. The CD, however, wound up becoming quite popular on the Emerson campus and soon Angelakos was getting attention from record labels and promoters.

That resulted in the formation of Passion Pit (which currently consists of Angelakos, Ian Hultquist, Ayad Al Adhamy, Jeff Apruzzese and Nate Donmoyer) and the production of the “Chunk of Change” EP, which included the original four songs on the Valentine’s Day CD plus the tracks “Sleepyhead” and “Better Things.” Additional exposure for Passion Pit came from the use of “Sleepyhead” in a Canadian commercial for Sony’s PSP game system and spots for MTV’s “What the Flip?” promotion.

Passion Pit was named one of the top bands at the 2008 CMJ Music Marathon in New York and placed ninth in BBC’s Sound of 2009 list of emerging music acts. The band was also XPN’s Artist to Watch in June 2009.

Built upon electro-pop bass grooves and punchy synth-based hooks, the tracks on “Manners” draw from a number of musical influences. One can clearly hear touches of Brian Wilson/Beach Boys (“Let Your Love Grow Tall” and “Seaweed Song”), early Prince (“Eyes as Candles”) and even U2 (“Moth’s Wings”). For a taste of “Manners,” check out the video for “The Reeling” (my favorite track from the CD) below.

But Angelakos and Co. manage to incorporate those various influences into a cohesive collection of songs on “Manners” that makes for a enjoyable listen throughout. The one issue I have with “Manners” is the sequencing. While the first track, “Make Light” is a decent enough song, it isn’t quite successful as an album opener. If I hadn’t already heard many of the tracks that were to follow, I’m not sure “Make Light” would have drawn me into the rest of the CD on its own.

But if you like intelligent electronic pop music suitable for dancing or just driving around, pick up a copy of “Manners” by Passion Pit.

More information: Passion Pit on MySpace

Passion Pit – The Reeling

New music review: Ben Folds, Keane

Well, today marked my first listening to new songs by two of my favorite artists, Ben Folds and Keane.

Ben Folds announced via MySpace the debut of a video for “Hiroshima,” the first single off his upcoming CD, “Way to Normal” (Sept. 30, 2008). The half-assed, stop-motion video is quirky and funny…but the song? Well, I worship Ben Folds…think he’s a genius…I even met him very, very briefly in November 2005. But I’m just not feeling “Hiroshima.” It’s obviously a fleshed-out version of one of Ben’s improvisational pieces during one of his shows…and it will probably be fun to hear peformed live. I just don’t see myself playing it too many times on my iPod.

However, I guess I just expect a level of musicianship from Ben on recorded media…and “Hiroshima” doesn’t really meet that expectation for me. Hopefully, the rest of the new CD reaches higher.

But I still love your music, Ben…and you are still a genius.

Ben Folds – “Hiroshima” [Live at Bonnaroo 2008]

On the other hand, Keane’s single for “Spiralling” (although I prefer “Spiraling”) off the upcoming “Perfect Symmetry” CD (Oct. 13, 2008 ) is really entertaining and fun. It’s not groundbreaking and I don’t expect Keane to be. However, the boys managed to retain their sound while also infusing it with dance beats and funk bass that seem to be greatly influenced by (and perhaps featuring samples from) David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance.” Even though this really isn’t the style of music I am into these days, I always seem to find a few pop songs throughout the year that I really enjoy…and “Spiralling” is definitely one of them. I can’t wait to get it on my iPod and play it a few times very loudly with my windows down on a long drive.

I was disappointed with Keane’s previous CD, “Under the Iron Sea,” although “Bad Dream” from that disc is a freakin’ great song. I thought “Sea” was a step back from the brilliance of 2004’s “Hopes and Fears,” which spawned “Somewhere Only We Know,” “Everybody Changes,” and “Bedshaped.”

But “Spiralling” gives me great hope that Keane has taken many steps forward with “Perfect Symmetry.”

Keane – “Spiralling” [Radio Edit]

Movie Review: “Iron Man” (short version)

I saw “Iron Man” last night and since I don’t have a lot of time this weekend, I’ll sum up my review in two words…

F’n awesome!

Seriously, I thought it was better than any of the “Spider-Man” movies.

And definitely stay THROUGH the end credits…if you are a Marvel Comics fan, you will love the bonus scene.