Soundtrack Review: Stranger Things (2016) by Dixon and Stein
Stranger Things dropped on Netflix two months ago, and ensnared our collective consciousness. It’s an 80’s homage without being derivative, paying respects to the giants of horror and sci-fi of 30 years ago without aping their style. The show is as unique as it is riveting, with a diverse cast of surprisingly capable child actors, such as Millie Bobby Brown and Gaten Matarazzo. Winona Ryder, David Harbour, and Natalie Dyer among the adult cast turn in superb performances as well.
For a television show so steeped in its era, the trappings of that era had to be pitch perfect. That means impeccably dressed sets, cover art that evokes 80’s box art, and a stellar synth soundtrack.
The Duffer Brothers hit it out of the park when they landed two of the members of synth quartet S U R V I V E – the group’s song “Dirge” accompanied the Duffer Brothers’ pitch film for Stranger Things. Once they got the show into production, they brought on Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein immediately. The music evolved organically with the scripts and filming of the show. It’s embedded as deeply into the world of Stranger Things as is the Upside Down.
Instead of developing a series of discrete themes for general atmospheric conveyance – like an aural cue for romance or horror or suspense – Dixon and Stein had room to run. They wrote musical pieces for each separate story component, meaning the Stranger Things soundtrack is so large it had to be released in two albums. With that much analog synth, you might well worry about 80’s fatigue, but that doesn’t happen with this two-part soundtrack. Each piece is clearly part of a whole, but individually unique enough to keep your ear tuned in, and your mind pulled along. It’s easy to understand that Dixon and Stein are as much storytellers with their music as the Duffer Brothers are with their scripts.
Dixon and Stein have spoken elsewhere about the soundtrack’s comparison to the 80’s tracks composed by John Carpenter or John Harrison. They admit that the Carpenter comparison is on track, but point out that much of the similarity is simply because they’re using the same instruments. Their music sounds like the 80’s because it could have been played in the 80’s.
Each track measures on average between 1-2 minutes, and wastes no time creating the atmosphere for the scene. Creativity is portrayed with a quick-plinking beat, while great danger barges onto the scene with a growling, staticky alarm. Relaxed moments or those full of promise come with easy open reverberations, soft or bold notes opening up our horizons. This soundtrack contains multitudes, and you’ll feel something each time you plug into it.
Both soundtracks are produced by Lakeshore Records and will be available next month on audio CD: Volume 1 will be available on October 14th, 2016, while Volume 2 will drop a week later on October 21st. Vinyl for Volume 1 will be released at the end of October; digital editions of the soundtracks are available now!