Kyle Dixon & Michael Stein - Stranger Things OST Vol. 2

by Joseph Majsterski Rating:6 Release Date:2016-09-26

I recently reviewed the Stranger Things soundtrack, volume 1, and found it to be just as fantastic as the TV show it supports, full of brooding synths, some provoking deep fear or anxiety, and a few managing to be soothing and sweet. Unfortunately, volume 2 doesn't quite measure up for some ineffable reason. It's not bad, but the selection here just feels weaker, almost like b-sides, if such a thing were possible for a soundtrack. It's another huge set of tiny vignettes, but there's a feeling of sameness here that wasn't present in the first volume. Like the first volume, these tunes are rarely full songs, tending more towards scene-setting snippets of music. Out of thirty-nine pieces, only twelve go over two minutes, and only four go over three minutes. But somehow, there aren't as many breaks and change-ups to keep things engaging. Instead, it feels like the guys were running out of ideas and just started doing minor variations over and over.

It's not bad, by any stretch. Opener 'Hopper Sneaks In' strikes just the right tone, with a furtive, lightly stepping synth taking the lead. 'Gearing Up' is intense and serious, as is 'Spiked Bat', which sounds like a riff on the main theme. 'Inside the Black Room' is deeply unsettling, causing your stomach to curl up in a frightened little ball. 'Bad Men', too, is like the evil hum of a machine buried in the bowels of the Earth. And 'Rolling out of the Pool' has a pleasant sense of urgency. There are plenty of good slow pieces as well. 'Eleven is Gone' is gripping and heart-wrenching, with achy pads and an incredibly delicate minor lead. The synths in 'First Kiss' are thick and mellow, like bathing in milk. 'Flickering' is like a gentle rain of jewels from the sky, all tinkles and light.

But then songs, seemingly with the same intent and components, don't work. 'Time for a 187' has a skittering lead and throbbing bass, but it sounds both too familiar and too impersonal, that is, lacking in personality. 'Still Pretty', aiming for the sweetness of 'First Kiss' (and 'Nancy and Barb' from volume one), instead comes off as a bit hollow and whistling. 'Tribulations', clocking in just over a minute, manages to feel interminable, almost cheesy, with its slack melody. 'Walking Down the Tracks' has some aimless plucking and not much else. 'Crying' is just a brief, passing mist that leaves no impression whatsoever. 'It's Not My Boy' is depressing, but also a bit dull, with a squirming, drifting melody that does some slow motion gyrations before fading away. 'I Know What I Saw' is more meditative, with almost voice-like pads, but at nearly three minutes, the gimmick wears out its welcome, and the song is marred by some poor programming that leaves audible seams in the song. 'Something in the Wall' aims for the creepiness of other, more successful tracks, but veers into the annoying with some loud and grating effects, particularly one of the machine squeals mid-way through.

What it comes down to is if you absolutely adored the first volume and can't get enough of the sound, this may be worth getting. And to be fair, it does end on an extended version of the main 'Stranger Things' theme, which is utterly iconic. Still, if you don't have either and are debating which to get, skip this in favor of volume one. If you enjoyed the first volume more as a curiosity, this won't thrill you. It's just not up to snuff and matches up poorly with the other set.

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