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LA band Princeton's 2009 album, Cocoon of Love (on Kanine) didn't sound like an LA album—not that you can exactly nail down what an LA album sound like. But you can always spot a kid who spent a lot of time listening to the Kinks, and Princeton's debut LP was absolutely and expertly indebted to the combined power of the Ray Davies outfit. Princeton even have a set of brothers up front, too, though that's more of a happy coincidence.
"Ray Davies was the first person where it was like, 'That's how I'd like to write songs!'" says guitarist and singer Matt Kivel now. "The lesson I learned was it's always good to associate yourself with some kind of tradition, so you have a clear idea of what you're connected to. I was so enamored of him that I'd try writing songs that sounded like him, and I thought that was fine and good. But after Cocoon of Love, I wanted to figure out what I was doing. What tradition I was connected to. What a song by Matt Kivel would sound like—that didn't sound like Ray Davies!"
But tradition is a funny thing to root out here in Los Angeles—are you a Beach Boy? A Black Flag? A Byrd? A Jackson Browne? As it would turn out, Kivel, who grew up with brother Jesse on Princeton Street in Santa Monica, found his own breakthrough with Steve Reich, the minimalist composer whose grandfather played piano and ran a jewelry store on Hollywood Boulevard, and who took strands from American jazz and African and Asian percussion and created his own idiosyncratic vernacular of pulse and mood. Maybe that's an unexpected direction for a band whose last album played like The Village Green Preservation Society replanted along Pacific Coast Highway. But on the yet-to-be-released new Princeton LP, you'll hear Kivel's band alight with obvious new inspiration and focus.
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They pulled out almost all the guitars, says Kivel—really, the only place you might here one is on the final song, "Louise." Instead, they recruited the minimalist Los Angeles New Music Ensemble, and built a record on percussion—drums, marimba and vibraphone—and the dolorous vocals of the Kivel brothers. If a song was only catchy, they threw it out, Kivel says. If it was interesting, they kept it, and then peeled it away to make sure there was nothing but the idea in its pure state. It plays like John Cale in his considered prime and New York avant-disco genius Arthur Russell, who found incomparable beauty in beats, strings and repetition. It doesn't exactly sound like an LA album, but it sounds more like Princeton than anything they've done yet.
"I think people now are really down on my generation," Kivel says. "They think we just reappropriate older stuff. But Dylan, My Bloody Valentine or Joy Division—they were all rooted in a very specific tradition. Then they began to sound like themselves. People now are into writing bands off before they've even had a career. They wanna hear something they've never heard before, but they still want a pop song—verse and chorus. Why not wait and see if you'll get something really idiosyncratic? If you're patient, you'll get it. And if not, it's not worth your time anyway."
Princeton are the latest band with an LA album sound