Best of What's Next: Princeton

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Best of What's Next: Princeton

Hometown: Los Angeles, Calif.
Band Members: Jesse Kivel (vocals, guitar, bass), Matt Kivel (vocals, bass, guitar), Ben Usen (keyboards), David Kitz (drums)
Album: Cocoon of Love
For Fans Of: The Kinks, Belle and Sebastian, Vampire Weekend

Although Cocoon of Love (out now) is Princeton’s debut record, the 11 tracks feel more cohesive than some bands’ third or fourth releases, likely because twin brothers Jesse and Matt Kivel, along with keyboardist Ben Usen, have been making music together since they were 15-year-olds kicking around pay-to-play venues on L.A.’s Sunset Strip.

“We liked Oasis at the time, so we covered ‘Supersonic’ and put on these glasses, using British accents,” says Jesse. “We thought we were so cool.”

After splitting for college, the trio reunited while studying abroad in London where their baroque pop sound began to take shape, albeit quietly. “We’d rehearse in my flat,” Jesse says. “And whenever a neighbor would get mad at the noise, we’d just move to Matt’s flat, then Ben’s.”

With the recent addition of drummer David Kitz, Princeton makes dreamy pop complete with finger snaps, swelling strings and trumpet solos playing romantic, moonlit waltzes—the story-songs and pop hooks of Cocoon of Love would feel right at home in The Kinks’ London neighborhood. On songs like “Clive and Martina Krantz,” especially, Princeton effectively creates its own Village Green Preservation Society, weaving tales of fake people falling for each other in “tall, white mansions above / where Clive and Martina were making love.”

“You can almost visualize Ray Davies’ world of people. He’s got all these characters, a fictionalized world that’s based in reality; that’s how music can involve literature,” Jesse says. “That’s what our band was trying to do—letting you go into a different town, a different world and time period.”

But Princeton hasn’t let go of its hometown quite yet. The band has recently re-established its base in L.A.’s Rock Eagle neighborhood, and they even took their name from the name of the street where the Kivel brothers grew up—it’s not, they insist, an attempt to capitalize on the Vampire Weekend-led academic pop trend.

“We lived in a neighborhood with Ivy League named streets,” Jesse says. “We could’ve been called Harvard, which was a block over.”

“But it’s becoming a thing where everything written about us starts with ‘Despite their Ivy League name…’” Matt adds. “A new opening paragraph would be nice.”