The music world has its share of inbreeding with the literary world. In fact, I’ve made mix CD after mix CD chock full of songs having to do with books. From the Police’s Lolita references in “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” to Rush’s “Tom Sawyer,” the realms of music and literature have seemingly covered every topic. Aha! Not so fast there, chum. Because of the tragic suicide of prominent English novelist Virginia Woolf, most portrayals of the writer have been equally somber in tone, such as the book and subsequent film, The Hours. But Woolf’s life was not always plagued by depression, especially in the time she spent with the Bloosmsbury Group. Los Angeles trio Princeton has seemingly found joy in the Bloomsbury Group, and thus made it the subject of a four track EP. Twins Jesse and Matt Kivel along with Ben Usen have made their own indie rock / chamber pop version of Eminent Victorians with Bloomsbury, one that celebrates the joy of friends and the cradle of creativity.
“The Waves,” named after one of her novels, is Princeton’s ode to Virginia Woolf. The initial feeling is one of buoyancy in those waves as a bouncy piano and carefree percussion lead you into this whimsical EP. Although I know that the Bloomsbury Group was a progressive thinking bunch, feminist, sexually experimental and creative, it’s still difficult for me to think of any music surrounding Virginia Woolf as `twee,’ but somehow Princeton pull it off. “Ms. Bentwich” follows, named after economist John Maynard Keynes’ secretary who fell in love with him, carries on the chamber / twee set-up of the first track, but delves far more into the pastoral pop of 60’s England, especially in bands like the Kinks.
The subject of “Leonard Woolf” should be obvious, and for years, no one spent near as much time on his life than the others in the group, always being overshadowed by his wife’s work. Princeton collectively address this issue in this lighthearted song, as they sing over the playful strains of a ukulele. “All the while she writes and writes / she prints a book she flies a kite / I wonder how this weighs on me / Should I fly up in my dream / Should I stay up maybe cry / If life is moving, why should I?” To which Princeton replies, “So Leonard Woolf don’t cry / your books will one day speak to me / And when they do we’ll run outside / And tell your wife…” There’s definitely a Belle & Sebastian feel to both of the songs based on the Woolf’s, and this particular one, concentrating on an unsung artist, is especially enjoyable. The final track, named “Eminent Victorians” after Lytton Strachey’s mini-biography collection of famous Englanders, is a perfect closer to this wonderful EP. The guitars are more prominent in this song than in the previous, and the vocals are more upbeat and upfront, making it the most accessible and fun songs in the bunch.
Princeton made a slight ripple of buzz in the internet waters with their debut album release, A Case of the Emperor’s Clothes. But, after this strong EP follow-up and their subsequent touring with Vampire Weekend, this band is sure to gain a stronger following. I remember when I used to take swimming lessons. My instructor, in teaching me how to float, would yell `rocks in your pockets’ every time my hips started to sink below the surface. Now, knowing how Virginia Woolf died, it seems a bit creepy. Thankfully, with one fell swoop, Princeton has made the Bloomsbury Group and Virginia Woolf fun again, and the `rocks in my pockets’ are just the ones making my hips shake with dancing.