Marc Almond

Stranger Things

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For his follow-up to Open All Night, Marc Almond chose to work with a new partner, keyboardist and Iceland native Johann Johannson. A musical figure of some renown in his home country, with both his own projects Lhooq and Dip and his work with other acts, including the Hafler Trio, Johannson brought a very consciously cinematic touch to Stranger Things. Call it his own take on John Barry-touched trip-hop, though with generally less emphasis on rhythm and more on the dramatic strings, which he often arranged himself, though others assist in that role too. Almond himself, meanwhile, sounds in absolutely excellent voice -- indeed, arguably he's at a technical peak, with little evidence of the emotional cracking that has often marked his work. Lyrically, his reflections on love and lust are some of his calmest -- there's sparks at points, like on "Come Out," but little of his memorable turns of phrase. As a result, Stranger Things falls somewhere in the middle range of Almond albums -- it's no disaster, by any means, but it's definitely an album rewarding repeated listenings rather than immediately connecting. Where Open All Night was dark, sly, and desperate, Stranger Things, a few songs aside like the brassy "Dancer" and "When It's Your Time," is dreamy, swoony, and much more subtly involving. Consider the orchestration on "Born to Cry," which turns a fine song into a really great one, a Shirley Bassey-sung spy movie theme for a new century. "Glorious," which opens and, in an instrumental reprise, closes the album, is the clear standout on the record, having something of the same sweep and inspiration of "Meet Me In My Dream" from Tenement Symphony. Other highlights include "Lights," another in Almond's long-running series of songs about the romance of urban landscapes at night, the glitch-techno tinged "Moonbathe Skin," and the both moody and pretty crawl of the brilliantly titled "Love In a Time of Science."

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