Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Chunk of Change - Passion Pit

Chunk of Change

Passion Pit
FrenchKiss Records.

SCQ Rating: 79%

Cool story: Michael Angelakos was stressed out. Valentines Day had come and gone, and with every passing hour, he was digging himself into a quicker break-up scenario. Knowing that it was too late for chocolates or roses, Angelakos bunkered down in a studio and came out with Chunk of Change, a bouquet of electro-pop tunes. Now as a gift, it’s hardly romantic and doubtfully created in post-Valentines haste (I’d wager he had most of this prepped for himself but opted for a cool, review-opening anecdote – in which case, thanks!), but as a debut EP, Chuck of Change is a promising, informal glimpse at an emerging voice.

Utilizing urban loops, new-wave synths and electronic bleeps without restraint, this Cambridge, Massachusetts native covers a fair distance within half hour, from the straight hip-hop beat that Angelakos quirkifies on ‘Cuddle Fuddle’ to the Postal Service-era, indietronica found on ‘Live to Tell the Tale’. Evoking everything from late 90s rap to Confessions on the Dancefloor-era Madonna, Passion Pit has an innately comforting appeal; it’s as suitable for Friday night driving as it is for the Sunday night come-down.

As accessible as Chunk of Change is, the make-or-break factor will be Angelakos voice, which despite the aforementioned hip-hop mentions, is distinctly indie-rock (imagine a cross between The Rapture and a frantic Kevin Drew). Here’s the catch: Angelakos is pretty much both, each song acting as a flipped coin determining whether he’ll be slightly unnerved or full-blown frenetic. As far as this reviewer is concerned, his voice is one of Passion Pit’s great strengths but I have no doubt that many would find argument with that statement. Part of that understandable disapproval is clear: the vocals on Chunk of Change are poorly mixed in two tracks, most evidently on opener ‘I’ve Got Your Number’. It’s a brooding, synth-laden track that unfortunately features vocals mixed far louder than the instrumentation; as far as first impressions are concerned, Angelakos sounds whiny and overbearing when better production would’ve ensured an album highlight. In most cases, his vocals are well-integrated into electronic soundscapes like ‘Smile Upon You’ or his boisterous singing in ‘Sleepyhead’. Sadly, those few subpar exceptions do taint the DIY-respect that Chunk of Change aims for.

That ‘Better Things’ and ‘Sleepyhead’ were added post-Valentines by FrenchKiss isn’t overly surprising, as both are noticeably bolder; the former is a funky singalong, drunken in its ghetto-Daft Punk love-in. The latter has accumulated the most attention so far, a sample-heavy track that should turn heads in both the hip-hop and indie-rock camps. Hardly something to get emotionally invested in, Chunk of Change is still a decent girlfriend gift; a fun, constantly shifting record that compliments the excitement of being in love rather well. As far as a debut EP from a complete outsider is concerned, you truly cannot ask for much more than Passion Pit delivers.

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