The rare score to earn as much widespread acclaim as the work that spawned it, Stranger Things, Vol. 1 is the perfect complement to the show's loving homages to '80s pop culture. Composed by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein -- whose work with the synthwave outfit S U R V I V E proves they know a thing or two about updating vintage sounds -- the duo's music for the Netflix show is an unabashed love letter to the work of John Carpenter, Jean-Michel Jarre, and Tangerine Dream. However, their homages are always in service of Stranger Things' story and mood. Frequently, they reach the iconic heights of their influences: The show's Emmy-winning theme, with its thudding percussion, arpeggiated synth chords, bright bursts of synthesized bass, and sinister choral effects, encapsulates the feel of '80s sci-fi and horror perfectly. On "Kids," they distill the series' sense of adventure with beautiful chord progressions and a multitude of synth sounds. Throughout the score, Dixon and Stein define Stranger Things' characters with bracing melodies. "Eleven" pays tribute to the show's mysterious, telekinetic heroine with a glockenspiel-like melody set against swirling effects; "A Kiss," which encapsulates young love with its bittersweet chord sequence and soft synth pads, is akin to the work of Giorgio Moroder and Equinoxe-era Jarre. Dixon and Stein spend just as much time establishing the show's atmosphere with texture instead of predictably gloomy drones, and the way they balance menace and melancholy on these pieces makes the album much more than just a sci-fi soundtrack. That's not to say that they don't know how to give their audience a jolt; "The Upside Down" begins with an enticing ambience, the sort of sound you'd expect on a track by Hammock -- until it quickly U-turns into foreboding synth stabs and chilling strings that build to a crescendo of furious drum hits. "Castle Byers" is another highlight, made up of ever-rising strings and distant, reverberating pads that transform into celestial organ-like sounds. Like the show itself, Stranger Things, Vol. 1 transcends its nostalgic roots; far from pastiche, it's an invigorating piece of atmospheric electronic music that's enjoyable in its own right.
AllMusic Review by Rob Wacey