If there has ever been a cliché about popular music coming from the West Coast’s own sunshine state, Princeton is the band to break it. Rock and pop alike have been influenced by the easy-going lifestyle of the fervently tanned Californians. It’s a simplified, stereotypical image, but there is, of course, a reason why it constantly pops up (and it’s not because every tween in the world has shivered with excitement every time Phantom Planet’s Alex Greenwald screeched “Californiaaaaaa” to announce that The O.C. was on). While still being a likely match to be heard in any given American TV show seeking a little indie credibility and a fresh name to add to its official soundtracks, LA’s Princeton is something as rare as an American that doesn’t sound American.
Sure, this quintet has opened for American indie pop front figure acts Ra Ra Riot and Vampire Weekend, but even more so it seems like Princeton has more in common with the Belle & Sebastian school than cream of the crop baroque pop hipsters in the college rock division. For me, having passed my pre-adolescent and teenage years on a steady diet of Swedish twee and other cute, local indie pop, I hear the stern European sincerity and courteous manners running through the well-mannered pop orchestration on the debut Cocoon Of Love.
The album stands ready for evaluation against one of the finest releases of the year: Camera Obscura’s My Maudlin Career. It may seem unfair to ruthlessly put up debuting Princeton against career-peaking veterans Camera Obscura, but the only reason I do so is because the two albums are flirting and, in the process, scoring almost equally (whether they are aware of it or not). Perhaps it’s just my romanticizing fantasy, but in my mind Cocoon Of Love and My Maudlin Career are engaging in a romance, matching each other in a most charming way. Princeton has the slightly rough around the edges production of a tousle-haired youngster band, but also a contrasting sense of story-telling maturity and unsentimental nostalgia built on experience few bands can be proud to sport.
Exchanging tales and sometimes smirk-inducing anecdotes of the mild hazards of love sprinkled with post-romance wisdom with Tracyanne Campbell, the lead vocals are very reminiscent of those of Jens Lekman. On “Stunner Shades In Heaven” (a title and song that easily could have been found on Night Falls Over Kortedala) the resemblance becomes spooky: “At least we’ll have a memory of summer nights in San Sebastian.” However, Princeton still manages to not rip anyone off completely. Sharing Lekman’s healthy and sometimes exotically inclined dose of variation in the genre and not quite reaching up to the high production values of either Belle & Sebastian or the (read my) imagined target of subtle, noble seduction Camera Obscura, the band comes up with a set of consistently original and fairly memorable songs. Neither instrumentation or themes are groundbreaking in the slightest sense, but in the end, thanks to the charm, ability to craft instantly lovable songs, and shifty sound quality production, the album rises high above the state of sheer nostalgic roundup-ism of a decade’s worth of indie pop.
There’s 11 songs to be exact and they’re 11 lovely reasons to choose Cocoon Of Love as the worthy proposer before Stuart Murdoch’s highly competitive rival project God Help The Girl. While indie pop, in the most classic sense of the term (as so many are already are familiar with), may not be at the top of everyone’s playlists or Last.fm ratings in ’09, what Cocoon Of Love further helps to instate is that 2009 is still a remarkably qualitative year for indie pop.
Cocoon of Love