Nostalgia flourishes when the present is cloaked with uncertainty. The album of the month soundtracks one of the year’s best new show: Stranger Things. A duo from Austin have crafted a score so enchanting that the finished product can stand on its own and be enjoyed if you have not yet discovered Netflix’s little gem. Both the show and music are fandom ecstasy. The soundtrack smartly sticks to three clear influences: John Carpenter scores, B–Horror movie ambience and glorious cheesy 80s synths. Fans of the show have something to hold them over until season two.
by Kyle Dixon & Michael Stein
Lakeshore Records (2016)
The direct and indirect references, influences, and homages on display within the universe of Stranger Things are too numerous to contextualize; nonetheless I will list of some of the fandom on display. Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T., The Goonies, Stand by Me, The Cure, Joy Division, The Clash, (relax my overzealous nerds I am one of you and know that the show takes place in the year 1982 and some of the things came later on in the 80s), Batteries Not Included and any of the John Hughes teen angst endearing awkwardness. Part of the fun is catching the references while watching. It seems like growing up in Reagan’s America was a blast. The show is catered around the bond that four “thick as thieves” middle school friends share. The scariest things are girls, bullies and life altering Magic The Gathering board game strategic decisions. The innocence of youth vaporizes when one of them goes missing. Suddenly the world is a very scary place. The adventures, uncertainties, and lives of the protagonists are heightened by a score that enhances without overwhelming.
It seems like growing up in Reagan’s America was a blast.
Kylie Dixon and Michael Stein were approached by the show’s creators and directors, the Duffer Brothers, to see if they could use a few of their songs from the duo’s previous work as a band. The unknown Austin-based musicians not only obliged but they impressed them so much, a full offer for a soundtrack was commissioned. The universe of Stranger Things operates with an independent shoestring budget; it was only fitting the music would follow that ethos. The Duffer Brothers did not have a pilot episode to showcase. Instead as Kylie and Dixon have stated in interviews they were shown images, stills, boards and a look-book, which meant relying more on instinct and intuition in regards to the music. Kylie and Dixon got to work and over the course of the fruitful sessions, delivered two albums worth of material.
Volume 1 features the moody “instant classic” theme song that is the closest thing to a single on the album. The aforementioned title track that sets the tone, with pulsing elegant synth pop ambience. The music is hypnotic and strikes without warning into the darkness. A darkness that never sounds too ominous, due to a tinge of pop that the duo embrace but smartly not over use. Some tracks abruptly end and flow into the next. The space within those moments recalls Brian Eno’s stellar ambient arrangements for Roxy Music. I’ve always contended that certain music should be heard after midnight. Some music comes alive while the world sleeps. The soundtrack is headphone audiophile paradise. Eleven, Dustin, Lucas, Will, and Mike’s odyssey will replay back in your head.
Some music comes alive while the world sleeps.
To be able to create music that sounds feasible and easy to make or reproduce takes tremendous skill. The achievement of the final product comes from years of studio hermits mastering their craft. Much like the show the soundtrack is a labor of love. The music and the show are not life altering and guess what that is alright. Not everything has to be, that is one of the great things about nostalgia. As long as the finished product reminds you of yesteryear without tainting the memories, then mission accomplished. A great show, with an ace soundtrack.