Kyle Dixon & Michael Stein - Stranger Things OST

by Joseph Majsterski Rating:9 Release Date:2016-09-10

Netflix's TV series Stranger Things is the best new thingĀ I've watched this year. It manages to combine the good feelings inspired by movies like Steven Spielberg's ET with the monstrous horror of a Steven King novel. As someone who grew up in the 80s, its setting filled me with nostalgia for the era. The soundtrack, by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein, is also a huge part of the show's mystique, hitting all the right notes to build an early 80s proto-techno, ambient vibe in the style of Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream. And I learned to my delight that itĀ debuted at No. 24 on the Billboard 200, a remarkable feat for a relatively boutique genre of music for a streaming TV show.

Right from the opening notes of the show's title song, you know you're in for something special. It sounds eerily similar to the theme from John Carpenter's The Thing. The synths are both disturbing and arresting. And they continue to be so for the rest of the set. One thing to note is that most of the thirty-six songs on offer are brief, scene-setting sketches, clocking in at just a minute or two on average. But they generally do a fantastic job of setting those scenes and creating emotional backgrounds for the story. 'Nancy and Barb', introducing a pair of teenage girls, is a great example of this, perfectly crafting a sense of innocence and optimism with its twinkling synth work.

And while the entire album is great, there are a few notable standouts, such as the aforementioned theme song. Others include 'The Upside Down', which does an almost too good job of distilling the essence of that dark and disturbing alternate world into a skin-crawling tune full of deeply unsettling synths. 'Lamps', barely more than a minute long has an almost identical otherworldliness to it, except stripped of all the horror, leaving simple wonder.

Many of the songs, such as 'One Blink for Yes' and 'Cops are Good at Finding Things', have a dreamlike quality to them, with a feeling of diaphanous layers warbling their way past the mind. But there are nightmares too. Then there is a entire clutch of songs like 'Fresh Blood' and 'Agents', and especially the epic closer 'Hawkins Lab', that go off in a more conspiratorial direction, with fast-paced, nail-biting intensity.

For a work that's essentially all throwback analogue synths, this album is packed with variety. There are loads of drama and fear, but also a decent helping of sweetness and light, as well as moments of tranquil ambience. Fans of the show should definitely check this out, as well as any classic electronic music fans. Despite the emotional roller coaster it creates, which is definitely exhausting in places, I keep coming back to it.

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