Cocoon of Love
Princeton is named after the street where half of the California foursome grew up. That repels Vampire Weekend comparisons (Princeton began a year prior), but only before your first listen. When album closer “The Wild” name-checks Cambridge, your suspicions have been confirmed. Princeton’s debut is steeped in post-grad, post-millennial problems: lovers tied to other cities, memories tucked into brand names, over-education and underemployment. The two bands share these themes and some sonic reference points (Africa, the Caribbean), but when all of your commonalities are bought or borrowed, it hardly matters who came first.
There are many differences though, and they’re worth talking about. Twin brothers and frontmen Matt and and Jesse Kivel have similar voices, so it’s hard to tell who’s doing what. And both of them are striking as a watercolor landscape: passive, liquid and soothing. Princeton keep the voices deeply mixed into the each songs’ instruments too, so neither are more important than the woody strings or glockenspiel that paint every track.
The Kivel brothers easily reference islands and African sounds, melding them with light orchestration without sounding forced on “Calypso Gold.” Princeton’s and VW’s songs seem to share a protagonist: a young, bored, sophisticate who hopes travel—Cambridge, Nagasaki, “seaside towns”—will drag him out of his own detachment. Both Vampire Weekend and Princeton like slipping in the odd, sly hip-hop reference—for VW it was Lil’ Jon, for Princeton, it’s their protagonist’s “stunner shades” slipping down his face.
But Princeton go one better than VW; they reference doo-wop and 60s pop just as easily, and do so on their best songs. “Sylvie” sways on its finger-snapped beat and harmonized vocals. “Show Some Love, When Your Man Gets Home” sports an Al Green arrangement before shifting uptempo and downmarket into standard indie guitar pop. While transitions like that are a bit abrupt, they’re also rare. They keep a core sensibility amidst the orbiting cultural and sonic material in their atmosphere. If there’s any difficulty figuring out just how to think about that relationship, the record’s title provides another tidy metaphor. Swaddled in a kind of laid-back self-absorption that lets one song contemplate a lost love against the backdrop of a Korean War memorial, Princeton remind us that a tidy core sensibility is pretty to listen to, because it keeps all of the really ugly shit out.