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Bleachers’ latest song, “Alma Mater” featuring Lana Del Rey, isn’t a track for everyone, and it’s not trying to be. Immediately from the intro — which combines a steady electronic beat with recordings of Lana Del Rey experimenting in the studio — the single embraces a layered, slightly erratic sound.
The first chorus is slightly off-putting, prolonging the jarring effect of the intro. Discordant, synthesized audio effects decorate moody vocals by Jack Antonoff, who describes his “alma mater / Chasin’ lines all night / Smokin’ me outta sight.” This “alma mater” may be a school he attended, his love interest, or his hometown more broadly. The song’s geographic highlights range from “the Wawa,” a regional convenience store, to the vaguer “old house,” “green,” and “movie theater.” Probably, it’s all of the above: The song doesn’t go for story so much as the general vibe of nostalgia for a simpler, edgier, New Jersey-er time (“2003,” apparently).
Del Rey is introduced by name, with a reversed breath and Antonoff abruptly singing, “Lana,” at the end of the first verse, to sing just one line, “I’ll make it darker.” This line, repeated toward the end of the song — with another introduction, apparently in case the listener forgot this song was featuring Del Rey — is her main mark on the single besides the intro and barely audible backup vocals. The lyrics are nonetheless accurate: Del Rey’s deep, haunting voice does serve to ground the track, and bring in a sinister element; she does “make it darker.”
In between the first and last chorus, “Alma Mater” includes what feels like several different songs. From the rhythmic, falsetto feel of the first verse to a second verse that would almost be reminiscent of Antonoff’s days in Fun if not for what feel like random audio effects as much as instrumental, “Alma Mater” takes on several sonic personae, unified by the themes of returning to one’s roots and driving around aimlessly. The abstract “she” in the song fits in well with Del Rey’s body of work, as she “alligator cries,” throws “her T-shirt down the pike,” and screams “‘F-ck Balenciaga.’”
Although “Alma Mater” is disjointed, after five years of consistent, successful collaboration, Antonoff and Del Rey have earned the right to experiment. While Del Rey fans will probably wish she had slightly more presence, they’ll undoubtedly still include it on countless angsty-nostalgic-indie-rock-driving playlists. And as an intense contrast to Bleachers’ previous single, “Modern Girl,” it’ll have Antonoff fans pleasantly surprised and excited for what’s shaping up to be a bold new album.
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