Somewhere along the line, Matt and Jesse Kivel’s creative perfectionism challenged them to stretch their songwriting beyond pop music and into the avant-garde. For Princeton’s sophomore LP, Remembrance of Things to Come, the identical twin brothers shed the traditional rock-writing tropes—multiple chord changes, verse/chorus key shifts and electric guitar—that guided their 2009 debut LP, Cocoon of Love. Choosing instead to obsessively focus upon compositional patterns, dynamic rhythms and dense percussion orchestrations. The hypnosis of classical minimalism and its short, repetitive phrases became a creative compulsion. Perfection, they learned, is not achieved when there is nothing more to add but when there is nothing left to take away.
Taking cues from Steve Reich, Terry Riley, Julius Eastman, Arthur Russell, Philip Glass and others, Matt Kivel says these experimental composers confirmed his early artistic urges to remove chords and emphasize rhythm over melodic density. Jesse Kivel, on the other hand, was focusing more specifically on dance music, long-form disco in particular. Blending electronic dance music with classical minimalism provided the conceptual genesis for Princeton’s new aural direction, and so began a redefining of what the band was to become.
Away from the comforts of their Los Angeles home, the brothers began writing songs for a new album. Jesse Kivel found inspiration on the road from the band’s touring drive-throughs and one-night-stands across the country, spawning songs like “Florida”, “Grand Rapids” and “Oklahoma”. Matt Kivel, meanwhile, would isolate himself overseas in a London apartment for six winter weeks, waking before sunrise to write character outlines and sketches for the album’s eventual song-cycle. In freely written prose, he found the voices of his characters and the lyrics to his songs, examining the abrasions caused by human interaction between lovers, friends and relatives. Always splitting the writing and vocal duties evenly, the Kivel brothers’ artfully crafted narratives provided thematic frameworks for the complex musical arrangements that would follow. From two songwriters with different minds but identical genetics, Princeton’s voice became singular.
From there, the Kivel’s creative efforts returned home to California. Along with keyboardist Ben Usen and drummer David Kitz, the band met on a daily basis, sifting through the newly written material, improvising together and designing skeletal frameworks for the compositions. Matt Kivel began working with violinist and composer Patrick Conlon of the Los Angeles New Music Ensemble and together they wrote orchestral arrangements for each song. Princeton’s members rented an empty studio space in North Hollywood to record and for the next three summer months barely saw the light of day, starting at 10 a.m. and working until the building closed at midnight. Matt and Jesse Kivel hardly played instruments on the tracks, relinquishing performance duties to Usen, Kitz and the seven-piece Los Angeles New Music ensemble. In the end, 18 songs were recorded and the 10 most cohesive pieces were chosen for the final album. They titled it after the thematic opener, “Remembrance of Things to Come.”
The final result is a challenging pop opus that stretches the band’s ambitious vision and creative impulses. Through its musical patterns and shapes, an eternal quality arises in Remembrance of Things to Come that is both instantly evocative and densely layered. The songs suggest a musical atemporality; a timeless feeling capable of fitting into any place or era of popular music. And so, as vitality pulses therein, it is clear that these are songs to live by and live with— in and out of time.
In the time since recording Remembrance of Things to come, the members of Princeton have proven themselves prolific creators within the Los Angeles music scene. Jesse Kivel released the debut album from his disco-pop side-project, Kisses. Both Kivels teamed up for a full-length release with their shoegaze band, Sleeping Bags. David Kitz has proven himself an up-and-coming talent in the visual art world with shows around the city. And Usen and Matt Kivel spearhead operations behind the D.I.Y. label Easter Everywhere, which hosts monthly nights at the Echo Park underground art gallery and music venue, Pehrspace. With this community-minded ethos at heart, Princeton has teamed with L.A.-based label, Hit City U.S.A., for a split release of Remembrance of Things to Come out February 21, 2012.