Princess Chelsea – Lil’ Golden Book (2011)

I was introduced to one of this project’s songs yesterday night and I enjoyed it very much, so I thought why not write about Princess Chelsea. I doubt this will be an album to stick by and talk about years later, but I never said I’d only write about stuff which can withstand the test of time. I’m loving it now, and I’d rather be honest about that than allow for the inertia of my musical taste to take over and push this fascinating little collection of songs aside to some repository for “strange days”.

I’ve been trying very hard, all day, to figure out the influences I can detect in this music, just to help myself understand it, help myself gain a sort-of illuminating perspective on what’s going on. So far, the best I could come up with is “kid’s show soundtrack”. I’m not sure, but I feel at least a good portion of these songs sound like they belong in some early ’80s cartoon shows. Remember “Spartacus and the Sun Beneath the Sea”? That show’s theme song used to wake me up every morning when I was in middle school, since my TV doubled as an alarm clock. Every day, at seven o’clock in the morning, Cartoon Network would show this weird animation, part of a sci-fi-fantasy trend of shows I think studios were on during the late seventies-early eighties. I only have a very vague recollection of what it was all about. What I remember most vividly is that I didn’t like it one bit, I guess because of the spectacularly poor quality of the animation. The theme song ended up annoying the living daylights out of me as well, understandably, since middle school wasn’t the best time to wake up in the morning, especially not to an artificial-sounding, over-produced, weird little tune. However, more than the song itself, the mood stuck with me – a sort of cold, minimal, dusky sort of mood, for bleak mornings and quintessentially confused days. I think many kid’s shows can end up walking this sort of line in retrospect, “Spartacus… ” is just my example. And Princess Chelsea’s music captures that feeling very well. It’s the kind of music I can definitely picture large nondescript animals “frolicking” around on a small screen, repetitively and obsessively. And now, unlike then, it seems endearing, in an ironic sort of way. It has to do with “the grotesque” I was rambling about in a few other posts, that feeling which exerts such an attraction on me.

Simple, jolly, silly little tunes submerged in a rather lush albeit marginally creepy well of sound are the foundation of this album. Listening to it feels like hearing remixes of kindergarten songs performed with heavy, late ’70s style instrumentation (that is, synthetizers in a sort of primitive state, enjoying their limitations as “revolutionary musical zones” to be explored) and a cold, distant voice which somehow manages to remain childlike in spite of the obvious reverb fetish going on on a production level. The only other act I feel tempted to liken this music to is Coco Rosie, although that band is a totally different animal. Princess Chelsea sounds like Coco Rosie forty years ago and taking themselves much less seriously, and that’s a very very good thing.

There’s a song on this album about how fighting about cigarette smoking can break up couples (statistically speaking, and it’s that precise distance which is the point) and another song about someone drinking too much. And I don’t mean smoking and drinking in the way Tom Waits would approach the themes. I mean it in the “Sesame Street” way. You can understand why I feel it’s such kiddy music, why it feels like Princess Chelsea took the Teletubbies and turned them into the inspiration for one of the weirdest and most entertaining indie acts I’ve heard in a long time. The songs are so mechanical, so odd, they make me feel like I’m stuck in the Twilight Zone half the time and stuck in my early teens the other half. While normally I’d consider that a horrifying image, I can definitely enjoy it in this case, simply because I suspect there’s a healthy dose of irony backing the whole endeavor up. I guess hipster irony finally makes sense when confronted with something like this.

I’ll break my rule of thumb and post three videos this time, since I can’t help but admit I adore Princess Chelsea’s rendition of “And I love her” by The Beatles. The mechanical, toy-like style she exhibits on all of her songs seems to go so very well with the Beatles’ tune that, even if it’s not on the album, I think it deserves some attention. I realize this writeup is a bit conflicted, since I guess I’m talking more about how this music gives me every reason to reject it than the reasons why I love it, but I guess that’s just the point. There’s a lot to be said for smart oddity in music, and I think I’m just tuned in to the weird that Princess Chelsea showcases. It’s not beautiful, it’s not rapturous, it isn’t enlightening. I think it’s just fun. Do you agree?

 

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