The Stranger Things Netflix series is a beautiful melding of modern themes and 1980s culture, and its musical accompaniment is no different. The score for Stranger Things season 1 and now 2 was composed by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein, members of the Austin, Texas experimental band S U R V I V E, and at first listen, you’ll have no doubt what style of music they and their band specialise in.
From the first beat of these soundtracks’ synthesised tones ring out above padded chords. The scores find their 1980s roots in the repetition of this synthesiser motifs and at times their upbeat and rather cheesy nature. Dixon and Stein have stated that they’ve brought some new compositional techniques into the score of Stranger Things 2 to go along with their established style from season one, and I can confirm that this is definitely true. While there are still padded chords and synthesised tones, these elements transition into emotional non-repetition, and Dixon and Stein’s new, thicker chords move towards doing things that a synthesised orchestra might have done on a television soundtrack in the 1990s and a real orchestra would have done in the 2000s.
Soundtrack cues like ‘Walkin’ in Hawkins’, ‘Scars’, ‘In the Woods’, ‘Chicago’, and ‘We Go Out Tonight’ bring in rhythmic patterns and instantly memorable motifs that I have no doubt complete the tone of the scenes they accompany. Stranger Things tends to be a show with great dialogue, transitions, and emotions, and the intricately paced movement of these cues drives those elements along.
Other cues on this soundtrack, such as ‘Eulogy’, ‘Crib’, ‘Shouldn’t Have Lied’, ‘She Wants Me To Find Her’, and ‘Choices’ show the opposite side of Dixon and Stein’s composition styles, and also introduce some musical thematic material from the first season. These cues are significantly slow, minimalistic, and poignant in their deliveries. I am sure they aid what Stranger Things presents on screen in extensively stretching out emotions of love, loss, and hope. When listening to these cues especially, those specific emotions will be brought to mind.
Dixon and Stein bring some great things to the table this time around to provide an artful soundtrack to a very mystical series. While the score does grasp the 1980s tone with its synthesised melodies and chords, it goes beyond that and connects to modern times by varying those melodies into themes and pulling specific emotions out of the abyss and into multiple scenes. Rather than succumbing to the un-artful and un-nuanced score tropes of other 1980s synth music or certain music meant to accompany 1980s scenes, Dixon and Stein have composed an original soundtrack that hits all of the right notes. What I mean by that pun is that this score will feel distinctly at home in the 1980s, but will also feel thematic, emotional, and artistic to those who are listening for it. This makes this score a fantastic bridge from the show’s 1980s setting to 2017, aiding Stranger Things irreplaceably in being a massively popular television series.