Stranger Things, Vol. 1 [OST]
It seems the one thing anyone lured in by Netflix’s Stranger Things can agree on – the music was a triumph; scene-setting, propulsive, era/genre-evoking, it worked stunningly as a masterful prop and part of the manipulation. The score comes courtesy of Kyle Dixon & Michael Stein – two members of a synth group called S U R V I V E; their own music taking its cues, pardon the obvious pun, from John Carpenter’s soundtrack work – the right choice then for a series that seemed to be aping late 70s/early 80s movie work by Carpenter and Steven Spielberg among others.
Volume 1 of the Stranger Things score is here now and it plays out as if its own new age mixtape, some moments from Moby and other 90s/00s techno minimalists; most overtly the music touches on the fine film score oeuvre of David Lynch’s right hand man, Angelo Badalamenti.
The master-trick by Dixon and Stein was creating utterly unmemorable title-card music. There it was each episode, eerie and spooky and spine-tinglingly wonderful. But could you hum it? Fuck no! So there it was again, top of the next episode: another revelation. And again. And again.
In fact just as the TV show worked hard to consciously show off its homage-notes, to dust off every tribute-shot possibly and shake its audience by the shoulders until it could see – and then bask in – the glory the music seems to have been designed to work in reverse, or completely opposite: so vague and never quite a copy as to seem genuinely unique whilst all the while triggering the right thoughts and engagement to sell a show that shifted between horror and sci-fi and fantasy and teen (mellow) drama.
There will be a second volume of the Stranger Things score – and there’ll likely be a second series of the show and even if there isn’t you can expect Stein and Dixon to be asked to re-work/replicate this magic and encroach on Badalamenti’s space/s as well as the areas Cliff Martinez works in (and around).
A third of the way into this volume of the score – when everything is seeming as serene as the waters at Camp Crystal Lake – the musical mood takes a dark shift; we are in one of several Stephen King film adaptations, we are in the dirty water, we stay in the damp and dark and eerie for a few cuts – and it’s a deep listening experience. Rewarding, and a nice break up from the serenity across the first third; it’s also more overtly filmic and scene-setting as the cues start to move inside mini worlds rather than merely pointing and hoping.
We pop back out into tanning-salon land before too long and the day-spa cues are, by the way, still utterly mesmerising and wonderful.
Stranger Things played a few tricks on its viewers, I reckon. It was enjoyable – fun, easy and hypnotic watching. But it was only ever homage, and couldn’t stand up away from that. The music not only supported every single move of that clever ruse but is able – too – to stand up and off on its own, even now as “an album” – no visuals tied to it, only a memory of them, if required.
That’s no mean feat.
These guys will be wise to take the money and run toward any other score they’re offered, or to hide out and go back to just being in the band. Either way they’ve done something extraordinary here. Wait for the parodies, the sampling, the inevitable backlash – but while you’re waiting give the musical score to Stranger Things a few laps around the track for itself. It’s earned that.