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- Posted on Feb 21st 2012 5:00PM by Kenneth Partridge
Prepping the follow-up, 'Remembrance of Things to Come,' which is available now, Usen and drummer David Kitz had more of a say, helping twin brothers Matt and Jesse Kivel -- Princeton's singers and musical architects -- craft a markedly more spacious and sophisticated record.
"The hard part was stripping down," Usen tells Spinner. "When Jesse writes a catchy song, it's so easy to layer and come up with so many hooks. And that was 'Cocoon of Love.' I listen to it, and I'm like, 'It's all over the place.' We just came up with hooks, and they're just everywhere. It's kind of too much. It got claustrophobic and congested, and no one melody or hook stands out. We just stripped it down and tried to focus on certain melodies and stick with those and put those in the front."
The idea of pulling back and trying something new came while the band was on the road, touring behind 'Cocoon.' At the time, Jesse was getting into disco, while Matt was turning his bandmates on to the music of such experimental composers as Steve Reich and Philip Glass.
The Kivels again came up with the core song structures, but the entire foursome decamped to Usen's father's house at Lake Arrowhead, Calif., where they worked up parts for strings, horns, vibraphones and other instruments. The musicians paired Jesse's beloved dance beats with the kinds of minimalist orchestrations Matt had been absorbing, and from these disparate influences came songs like 'To the Alps' and 'Oklahoma' -- sleek, slightly off-kilter amalgams of dance pop, yacht rock and twee indie fare.
"It was an idea of, 'This is a really interesting way to represent pop songs,'" Usen says. "Instead of using chord changes, we're using different instrumentation and different patterns to come in and out and to build intensity and change the direction of the song without ever really changing the main structure or foundation -- without changing any chords and sticking around the same vocal melodies."
It's too soon to say where the Kivels might lead Princeton next, but even if the group returns to a more traditional approach, Usen suspects 'Remembrance of Things to Come' is, indeed, a harbinger of what's to come.
"We figured out how to sound really smooth and slick and clean, and that has become our sound," he says. "So even if we write poppier or rockier songs, they're going to have that slick vibe to them."