Dixon, Stein Turn ‘Stranger Things’ Upside Down with Synth Soundtrack (Music Review)

When a television show is based in 1984, viewers should expect to be immersed in the culture and vibe of the intended time period through injections of retro clothing, hairstyles, technology, dialect and even music. Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein are responsible for the award-winning soundtrack of Netflix’s sci-fi success story. Along with the visionaries of “Stranger Things,” the Duffer brothers, Dixon and Stein are back for a second season, trying to up the ante for the rapidly expanding fan base.

stranger things 2 ost
Season two of Stranger Things is currently streaming on Netflix. The sci-fi thriller was released on Oct. 27. (Image source: Netflix).

Anyone who has seen the series would be able to pick Dixon and Stein’s music out of a group, as it is one of the more unique styles featured in a television series. While many soundtracks opt to have a live orchestra, a band, or multiple artists and producers to create the track-list, Dixon and Stein prefer a more abstract approach. The duo, members of the Austin based band S U R V I V E, center their creativity around an army of synthesizers (if you’ve read my articles about Zack Villere and my favorite bands, you will notice a trend revolving around synthesizers), all equipped to provide whatever mood, tension, or fear desired.

Going into the second season of “Stranger Things,” expectations were high for the “heady Electronic duo,” as described by Pitchfork. Dixon and Stein earned an Emmy for best title theme and a nomination for a Grammy for best TV soundtrack.

Kyle Dixon Michael Stein Synth Room
Kyle Dixon (foreground) and Michael Stein (background) compose music in their recording studio, lined with synth keyboards. (Photo: Alex Kacha)

After having watched the second season, I was thoroughly impressed by the music; however, in order to fully appreciate the integrity of the soundtrack, you need to listen to it aside from the hub of craziness that is Hawkins, Indiana.

To open up the entire series, “Walkin in Hawkins” rolls in, synthesized note after note, easy for anyone to tap their foot to. As the song progresses, more layers of synth are thrown on top, some fuzzed out, some distorted, but all filling in nicely, still giving the listener a fantastic sense of what could be a great series of events expected to occur in Hawkins. Too bad anyone who tuned in for the first season knows that something is brewing in the air. Two songs later, “Eulogy” begins to turn the tides, foreshadowing a dark future. A basic track centered around one wah-wah-oriented synth line provides a somber and nostalgic flow surrounded by deep bass synth chords to add extra feel to the emotion throughout the third track.

The next few tracks are basically slight variations of the previous tracks, nothing terribly significant, but still very worth the listen. Track nine, “I Can Save Them,” is the first track that really made me feel like this was a great track-list. The song starts off slow and simple, but around a minute in, countless tracks have been added. The tempo is steadily rising and a flurry of notes is being filtered in, creating tension, suspense and thrill for listeners. “Descent into the Rift,” the very next track, is very reminiscent of Hanz Zimmer’s Batman series compositions through a flood of hard-hitting bass. Wave after wave of bass comes through the speakers, creating the fear of whatever lay within the Upside-Down, creating a true sense of fear and urgency.

Stranger Things 2 Vinyl
The soundtrack is set to release on December 22 via Lakeshore Records. The vinyl set will be available in three colors. (Image source:  Lakeshore Records)

For the rest of the album, the duo follows the pattern you just went through: a hard-hitter, followed by good songs to keep the attention, then a great build-up song that eventually leads to the big action song, similar to “Descent into the Rift.”

While I could go on, and on, and on… I feel that it would be better for you to listen to the soundtrack itself in its entirety. The track-list is slightly over an hour long, but it is perfect for studying, homework, and even driving. In fact, I finished my AP Calculus homework last night with it played in the background, and drove to school this morning to it as well. If you do not feel the urge to listen to the entire album, I will list below my favorite tracks so you may pick and choose.

My picks (In order of appearance): Walkin in Hawkins, Eulogy, Presumptuous, Scars, Descent into the Rift, Chicago, Soldiers, She Wants Me to Find Her, It’s a Trap, The Hub, Levitation, To Be Continued.

All in all, this soundtrack is one of the better compositions I have listened to yet. Due to the setting of the show — a 1984, small Indiana town riddled with mystery — the music needed to back it up with the intended era-appropriate emotion. Through inspiration for early 80’s synthesized movie soundtracks, Dixon and Stein are able to create a new, emotional dimension that captures the fear, curiosity and connection between characters and the unknown.


Rating: 8.6/10

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For a cinematic review of season two of “Stranger Things,” click here.


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