It's no secret that Stranger Things has been receiving widespread acclaim. It also seems to have been a while since a series soundtrack has received such a grand if not equal amount of praise as its visual counterpart. Composers Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein (known for being members of synth outfit S U R V I V E) landed the job after the show's producers used some of their tracks as temp pieces and the duo responded with a series of musical vignettes designed for the show itself. Vol. 1, while seemingly standing as an aural love letter to artists such as John Carpenter, Jean-Michel Jarre, and Tangerine Dream, is also a unique piece of work that pays homage to its influences while wholeheartedly caring about the story it's soundtracking. Beginning with the show's theme, its thudding percussion is resident throughout, with arpeggiated synth chords sitting among bright bursts of synthesized bass and sinister choral effects, perfectly encapsulating the feel of '80s sci-fi and horror adventures. "Kids" is undoubtedly a highlight, if not for its beautiful chord progressions then certainly for its multitude of synth sounds, enveloping the imagination and sense of adventure held within the show's central protagonists. Something evident throughout Vol. 1 is its ability to define its characters with tracks made up of bracing melodies. Examples are "Eleven," a stripped-down piece with a glockenspiel-esque melody set against swirling effects, and "A Kiss," encapsulating youth with its bittersweet and romantic chord sequence alongside soft, pulsating synth pads, akin to the work of Giorgio Moroder and Equinoxe-era Jarre. Whereas these tracks are character- and theme-driven, the other side of this score is atmospheric. What is impressive here is that Dixon and Stein have not predictably evoked a sense of peril with gloomy drone pieces, but rather opted for the route of creating texture without overdoing it, managing to find the sound of danger within something that ultimately translates as ethereal and, if anything, more melancholy than menacing. It's with these pieces that you suddenly find yourself forgetting about the frequent nostalgia flagged up in discussions of Stranger Things, and you begin to experience a genuinely decent electronic album with atmosphere, as opposed to just a sci-fi soundtrack. That's not to say that Dixon and Stein don't know how to present the sound of horror; "The Upside Down" begins somewhat neutrally emotive and lethargic with some enticing ambience, the sort of sound you would expect on a track by Hammock -- until it quickly U-turns into some intimidating menace as a sharp synth stab plays repeatedly over chilling strings, building to a crescendo that's carried by some furious drum hits. "Castle Byers" is another highlight, made up of ever-rising strings and distant, reverberated pads which then transform into an almost celestial organ-like sound. While the show itself is clear about its influences, its soundtrack manages to do this too, while ultimately culminating as an in-depth and invigorating piece of atmospheric electronic music.
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AllMusic Review by Rob Wacey