With a name that echoes so scholarly, Princeton’s roots date back to its members’ grade school days. Twin brothers Jesse (guitar, vocals) and Matt Kivel (bass, vocals) and longtime comrade Ben Usen (keyboard) grew up on Princeton Street, where they’d created music until each left their home in Santa Monica for college. The trio reunited in London and formed the indie pop outfit in 2005 and recorded their debut A Case for the Emperor’s Clothes the following year. David Kitz (drums) joined the band in 2008, leading to their Bloomsbury EP release later that year. The band recorded their first full-length Cocoon of Love in 2009 and most recently released their sophomore Remembrance Of Things To Come in February 2012.
Their sound as pleasant, prim and proper as one might expect of an Ivy League moniker, Princeton is a Santa Monica indie pop four-piece that dishes out witty and cheerful baroque pop. They sport that prep school summer feel and have the compositional smarts to show for it, incorporating beautiful string shrills that give them that chamber pop vibe, echoing mellow vocals and a tempo-carrying xylophone foundation.
Since their 2009 baroque pop debut Cocoon Of Love, Princeton has developed more of an instrumentally rich and whimsical sound, adding a touch of lyrical surrealism to their repertoire. But don’t be mistaken; as elusively poetic as all of that sounds on paper, their music is absolutely blissful and uncluttered—a treat for beach bumming scholars or anyone who, from time to time, likes to feel out their inner Good Will Hunting.
Princeton’s sophomore Remembrance of Things to Come (2012) features accompaniment by the Los Angeles New Music Ensemble. Together, they deliver orchestral brilliance and vocal eloquence in an enthrallingly warm 10-track package. The album engagingly moves from beginning to end in large part because of how percussively fortified the tracks are, especially for such a normally minimalistic band.
“Andre” pairs delightfully steady xylophone melodies with empowering, yet graceful, violin moments that make for a charming and spirited number. The track kicks off optimistically with a sound reminiscent of Vampire Weekend and would seemingly best be heard while releasing hundreds of sky lanterns on the beachfront during a warm summer night.
Princeton also delivers a good amount of synth with tracks like “To the Alps” and “Grand Rapids.” The latter swells with bubbly electronic ambiance and hypnotically electric oohs. It’s one of the more dreamy tracks on the album, but the automated elements still flow naturally into the orchestral segments, a notable bit served up by a commanding trumpet.
Remembrance closes with the so-beautifully-crafted “Louise,” showcasing all elements that contribute to this album’s charm. The different components of this track—the strings, the vocals, the xylophone, the drums—sound decadent to the point where you’d be sure they’d sound good on their own, but Princeton weaves them together in such a way that demonstrates that you don’t need a catchy chorus to start an eargasm.
Princeton knows composition. They know rhythm. And they know orchestration. They may not have studied at the Ivy Leagues, but they sure as hell play like musical scholars.