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LAist Review - Princeton's Bloomsbury EP

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Last October, LAist had the opportunity to interview local band Princeton as they were beginning the push to support their debut recording, the Bloomsbury EP. The interview was great but we've been remiss in getting to a review of the actual record. Fortunately, they're playing tonight at Spaceland's Club NME, which provides the perfect excuse to make up for this egregious error.

The EP, named after the district in central London that is almost the epicenter of Imperial British Culture (home of, for example, the British Museum, University of London and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts), is 4 songs inspired by prominent persons of letters whose intellectual contributions helped define the last decades of the Pax Brittania. While the songs themselves are largely free of political overtones, one can't help but wonder if their focus on the end of the British Empire (including a song about the greatest economist of the 20th century), might indicate commentary on our own ailing nation at this particularly scary time in our history.

Here then, for your enjoyment, is our song by song review of Princeton's Bloomsbury EP.

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HINT: You can listen to Princeton here.

Track One: The Waves

But when it's over now
I'd say I'd know how
She would be hypnotized, watching the sky
And oh the songs we'd sing, when she'd come home to me
The masks and the jewelry, gifts from the land

Opening with jaunty percussion and a happy piano melody offset by the cute uke in the background, this beautiful song conjures impressions of The Boy least likely To, or Sufjan Stevens. It's a catchy like the '08 flu kind of tune that cheers you so much you almost miss that it's about the last thoughts running through Virginia Woolf's mind as she drowns herself to death. As depicted here, she seems to have accepted her death but remains regretful about what her demise may do to those left behind to bury her. Perhaps it's the flute that comes in midway through, or the violin during the middle 8, but despite the subject, by the time you hear "But oh, it's alright, if I could get you up tonight" over background bells, you're left feeling like Virginia's suicide was an empowering, life affirming event. Songs about offing oneself aren't supposed to make you feel this good, which might be why it works so well.

Track Two: Leonard Woolf

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Leonard Woolf is on my bed, Those dusty pages no one read
And all the while she writes and writes, he prints the books she flies the kites
I wonder how this weighs on me, Should I fly or print my dreams?
Should I stay or maybe cry? If life is moving why should I?

The compliment to Waves, this song is about Virginia’s widower and presumably the life he led after her death. It is, as much as is possible for a twee pop song to be, almost a road trip kind of composition - For reasons I cannot fully articulate, it reminds me of Paul Williams (especially “Moving Right Along” from the Muppet movie.) It also contains many wonderful moments of baroque-pop style composition, like the harmonized flute and oboe in tango time near the end of the song. But most compelling are the mournful lyrics set to twangy guitars that articulate the pain of a man lost both in grief, and in obscurity that only comes from being the lesser member of a famous marriage. (Ted Hughes totally knows how you feel. I promise.) It's gorgeous tribute to second chances, and to second runners up.

Track Three: Ms. Bentwich

And though you wonder on Ms. Bentwich
I'm sorry for the sun, but you know it never comes
And though you wonder on Ms. Bentwich
I never loved you at all

This is the strangest of all the EP's tracks in subject and composition. Maynard Keynes was the 20th century's most important economist, a genius who envisioned a system1 by which the healthy economies are supported and strengthened by massive government intervention. His ideas led to the kind of wide-sweeping policies that typified the New Deal and defined mid 20th century economics in Western nations2. The song dedicated to him has absolutely nothing to say about his economic ideas - it's about an affair with (and subsequent rejection of) a woman named Ms. Bentwich (who may be Helen Bentwich, Union Activist and failed Labour Party candidate who was a contemporary of Keynes). Firmly sounding like Village Green Preservation Society era The Kinks, it opens with soft birdsong that builds into keys, strings and mid 60s McCartney style piano riffs. It changes tempo and time signature several times, finally ending with a Left Banke inspired harpsichord fade out that is, for lack of a better way to put it, fucking awesome. While not leaving you particularly enlightened as to the content of Mr. Keynes' character, it's certainly nice to know that Princeton can envision the human frailties of a man who changed the entire world and yet remains largely unknown outside of politics3.

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Track Four: Eminent Victorians

But I don't mind if I had nothing of the kind
Something I learned long ago
If you fake it it starts to show

Lytton Strachey was an English biographer who changed the way such books are written by introducing psychological insight and sympathetic wit into his depictions of the people of whom he wrote (notably, Queen Victoria). So it's fitting then that the song dedicated to him not only references the people about whom he most famously commented upon, but depicts him sympathetically as a man thinking longingly of lost love and, appropriately, class issues. It begins with bells and drums as guitars fade in like a combination of Dire Straits and Belle and Sebastian, then builds, builds, builds to a conclusion that honestly feels like last songs ought to feel. If I were making a mix CD for someone special this song would end it and I would be guaranteed a kiss for my efforts.

Princeton is playing tonight at Spaceland's Club NME. Do yourself, and your brain and heart a favor, and go see them. You can also visit their website, here.

1) I'm grossly oversimplifying here.

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2) That is until that asshole Milton Friedman came along and managed to disguise worship of the wealthy as populism.

3) and nerdy bloggers