TV

Soundtrack review: Stranger things – volume 1 (Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein – 2016)

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People will remember the summer of 2016 just like me and millions of others remember 1983: with love and an impossible level of nostalgia. Why? Because of a little Netflix show called “Stranger things”, a series that charmed every single viewer and was the most talked about show of this year. For 1980 kids like me or for others for which that decade is the most comfortable and beloved place, the creators of this show constructed the perfect time traveling machine and the most intense vessel for nostalgia. What’s the show about? Of course, it’s about everything we grew up loving: kids vs monsters. It’s a throwback to everything from E.T. to our favourite Stephen King stories that always involved groups of kids riding bikes and investigating … strange things.

Just like everything else on this show the music fit perfectly and helped recreate the 80s atmosphere to the smallest detail. I watched the show and the music was just as important and nostalgia inducing as any of the scenes in the TV show. Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein of the band S U R V I V E wrote it and Lakeshore Records brings us the gift of not one but two volumes of cues from “Stranger things”. When I got the score it was a mix of suffocating anticipation and the need to prolong the moment knowing what an awesome nostalgia trip I was going to embark on.

Just listening to the opening theme makes me feel all warm and fuzzy. The main titles always signaled the beginning of a new magical chapter of the story, dark but also inviting. Simple and  efficient the title theme is only the beginning. What’s more wonderful than the “Kids” cue that follows? It holds in its electronic palms the feelings of comfort, love and discovery of childhood when everything was sunny and when curiosity was the most frequent weapon of choice. This dreamy and joyful cue makes me remember my own childhood and the countless days spent in the park near my grandparent’s house.

“Friendship” comes from the heart as well and shows how the simplest bonds were the most durable back then. This theme is like a strong and thin thread that connects kindred little spirits. Quiet, simple and innocent it hits a familiar and cherished place inside me. “Biking to school” almost brings tears in my eyes.

Eleven was the most fascinating character of the series, the superhero of the kids and the composers gifted her with a theme as quiet and poignant as her appearance. The cue is restrained and a bit scared just like the was.

What draws nostalgia easiest out of the lair it has build deep inside me is the eeriness of 80s electronic music. A cue like “This isn’t you” is the fastest and most comfortable way to hypnotise me and if every there will be a time machine, for me it will work with this type of emotional fuel. This is perfection. A cue like this, so warm and dreamy represents everything I love about 80s synth music and why it’s my favourite genre.

Just like the show itself the music does’t stray one bit from the year it puts in notes. There is no improvisation or attempt to make it sound different. We get here the pure essence of the magical 80s synth and I am just in awe as cues go by as if they were days spent in my favourite time and place. I dream as I listen to this music, I feel better about myself and I feel like time travel is possible. I embrace the comfort of this familiar darkness and I just enjoy my favourite kind of music. Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein are wizards that can make the outside world fade away and replace it with my favourite childhood memories and emotions.

Just as the Duffer Brothers designed and created the visual world of “Stranger things”, the pair of composers designed their own musical world where each area of that city and each character has its own special place. The score is like a virtual tour of the TV show as seen through the eyes of the three types of characters that investigate the stranger things: the kids, mostly them, but also the teenagers and the adults. Their fears, worries, wonder and love transpire through the music as well as the bonds between them.

Just like the TV show, the score is perfect. I can’t wait to hear the second volume as well. For me this will be hard to beat as the score of the year because of the high nostalgia value, how amazing and magical it worked in the context of the TV show and because this is my favourite instrumental music genre. Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein wrote something that will never fade away.

Cue rating: 100 / 100
Total minutes of excellence: 66 / 66
Album excellence: 100 %
Highlights:
01 Stranger Things
02 Kids
03 Nancy and Barb
04 This Isn’t You
05 Lay-Z-Boy
06 Friendship
07 Eleven
08 A Kiss
09 Castle Beyers
10 Hawkins
11 The Upside Down
12 After Sarah
13 One Blink For Yes
14 Photos In The Woods
15 Fresh Blood
16 Lamps
17 Hallucinations
18 Hanging Lights
19 Biking To School
20 Are You Sure-
21 Agents
22 PaPa
23 Cops  Are good At Finding
24 No Weapons
25 Walking Through The Nether
26 She’ll Kill You
27 Run Away
28 No Autopsy
29 Dispatch
30 Joyce and Lonnie Fighting
31 Lights Out
32 Hazmat Suits
33 Theoretically
34 You Can Talk To Me
35 What Else Is There To Do-
36 Hawkins Lab

About the author

Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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