There were five musicians on stage as Pianos’ small room grew increasingly harder to enter during the three weeks of Passion Pit’s recent Lower East Side residency, but the band’s Chunk of Change EP is the work of a lone Bostonian, Michael Angelakos. Like most instantly ubiquitous newcomers of the past half-decade, he arrives armed with a press release-ready back story as well as a hit single (“hit” as in “clicked on often”). The folk story included in every write-up is that Angelakos compiled four tracks as a broke man’s Valentine. The much-posted ‘Sleepyhead’, one of two included songs written after that initial blush of romance, probably has more to do with the love-letter’s release on Frenchkiss Records.
Resisting instant gratification, the EP opens with ‘I’ve Got Your Number’. Angelakos first recalls the meek voice and pocket beats of Ben Gibbard’s Postal Service, but as the song builds, he’s admirably straining against the limits of his range. The conviction of his delivery partially saves phrases like “tears like diamonds” and “faster than the speed of love” from their questionable poetry. ‘Cuddle Fuddle’ milks an insistent piano loop like a late 90s Gang Starr single might have, bedroom production again outstripping vocal means. But Angelakos’ early singing fails in an interesting way, as if he’d love to have a smooth 70s pop voice, but is stuck in his yelpy 00s moment.
The two extra tracks start with ‘Better Things’, and portend good things for the band. Its squeaky-wheel synth line is grating and catchy, in the way interesting recent pop hits have been. And then, at long last, there’s ‘Sleepyhead’, which is easily the best thing here. On behalf of the indie-rock nation, Angelakos mirrors Kanye West’s recent tendencies, aping the rapper’s affection for pitch-shifted vocal samples. Earnestly disheveled singing that might sound dated in the context of another Montreal rock troupe is granted extended shelf-life against the ultra-modern backdrop. If that’s the direction he’s steering the band’s 2009 full-length towards, he’s likely to have the zeitgeist to himself when it finally arrives. Its leak will be a big deal for a few weeks, at the very least.