Stranger Things: Volumes 1 & 2
Musical Score By: Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein
Distributed by: Lakeshore Records
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
The Netflix original science fiction horror series Stranger Things takes place in 1983 in a small town called Hawkins, Indiana. When a young boy named Will disappears, his friends and family refuse to believe he is dead. They soon discover that Will has been inadvertently drawn in to a horrific top-secret experiment gone wrong. With the help of a determined town sheriff and a young girl with mysterious powers, the family and friends search for the truth, but once it is uncovered, how can they stop what is happening and save Will?
The musical score of the first season of Stranger Things was created by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein, members of the experimental synth quartet known as SURVIVE. The band, formed in 2009 in Austin, Texas, has released two full-length albums and a number of EPs and singles since inception. They have also contributed to the score of the horror film The Guest.
Lakeshore Records has spread the music of the eight episodes in the first season of Stranger Things over two albums, Stranger Things: Volume 1 and Volume 2. There are thirty-six tracks of music in Volume 1 and thirty-nine in Volume 2. The show being set in the 80s and featuring a great many 80s pop culture references, one would expect a score that would match in mood and texture. According to Michael Stein, “We discussed having a classic tone and feel to the music for the show but being reserved enough that it wasn't ’80s cheese, while offering a refreshing quality so that felt modern. This was one of the qualities that drew them to our music in the first place. Having a familiarity with classic synths worked, but with an overall forward thinking approach.”
The resulting score has just enough of that 80s synth flare found in horror and science fiction films of the era without being a complete copy of works by John Carpenter and others who scored the films of the 80s. The opening track of Stranger Things contains the opening theme of the series, an awesome track featuring pulsing somewhat like a heartbeat with a repetitive and urgent feel to the music accompanying that pulse. As you listen to that track, you are taken back to what made John Carpenter’s soundtracks for his films so scary and successful – the repetitive sound that contained a sense of urgency and was just creepy enough to spook you out.
The rest of the score incorporates the innocence of the kids, the teenagers and adults who are searching for Will, never quite knowing what they have gotten themselves into. Tracks like Eleven and Hawkins contain an air of mystery with a slightly ethereal sound, somewhat strange as if the person or locale being described is shifty or mysterious. The Upside Down starts off quiet, but things eventually become darker with numerous disconnected sounds accompanying a repetitive scale and dark, ominous percussion sounds. You instantly know this is not a nice place…that it’s dangerous. Papa has that note of danger to it as well, using darker and harsher tones to describe the mad scientist type responsible for all that is occurring in Hawkins. Things get a bit darker in the second volume of music from the show as the main characters get closer to the truth and find themselves fighting the monsters responsible for it as well as the monster who has Will. The tone of the score is darker and contains a bit faster pace.
Having watched the series and listened to the soundtracks, I can honestly say that the score created for Stranger Things by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein perfectly fits the visuals of the series, heightening the emotions and action taking place throughout. As standalone albums, Stranger Things: Volumes 1 and 2 present quite an interesting listen for both fans of synth music as well as fans of 80s sci-fi and horror. What’s also great is the price tag – you get over almost two and a half hours of music for about $19.00US if you buy the mp3, $24.00US if you buy CDs and $46.00US for vinyl which is a great buy! Definitely worth checking out!