The Stockholm Monsters

Alma Mater

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Alma Mater, the Stockholm Monsters' only full-length release in seven years of existence, sounds like nothing that came before or after it in the group's catalogue. Instead, it bridges 1984's two defining U.K. musical trends, the somber guitar jangle of the post-Smiths indie poppers and the dancefloor-bound electronics of post-"Blue Monday" New Order and the rest of the Factory Records raincoat brigade. The songs are mostly in minor keys, even the faster ones, and they're built on a twin-size bed of skittering electronic drums and brightly chiming arpeggiated guitar chords. Lindsay Anderson's trumpet, so much a part of the group's early singles, is downgraded to an occasional blat here and there, and Tony France's newly melodic vocals sound so different than before that it's almost hard to believe they're by the same guy. The doomy post-punk of earlier songs like "Miss Moonlight" is here transformed into a low-key melancholy with a much lighter touch. Terrific pop songs like "Five O'Clock" and "Terror" propel where once they would have pummeled, with Karl France's rubbery bass and Anderson's layered keyboards particularly reducing their sonic aggression. Slightly too dark hued to be merely pretty, Alma Mater is a terribly satisfying record that was all but ignored at the time of its release but sounds absolutely prescient in hindsight.

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