It's wonderful that we live in an age where a label can easily release all of the music for a television program, allowing we fans to dive in and really root around to see what we enjoy. Being able to curate our own soundtrack is a pretty wonderful concept, but we can only hope that, rather than going the Hannibal route, and releasing pounds of LPs for the upcoming vinyl release, we might see Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein go the route of Silva Screen's Sherlock release and give us one Stranger Things LP which is cracking good front-to-back.
The reason for that is just that there's so much music here: 70 minutes in total, and that's only the first volume, with a second hot on its tail. One can only assume that the producers are trying to strike while the iron's hot, and take advantage of the digital medium in order to make every single piece available. Unfortunately, it's death by overload.
Here's the thing: when a film score is done, one's usually talking sixty minutes’ worth of composed music for a standard two-hour film, and there's usually pop songs to add to that amount, as well. Now, consider applying that rubric to a television program.
There are roughly six and a half hours' worth of Stranger Things episodes, making for nearly three hours’ worth of score. That's a lot of music. It's difficult to remember all the cues in a Christopher Nolan film such as Interstellar, making keeping track of eight episodes of music nigh-impossible, even for the most devoted score fan.
It's nice and all to have every single cue, but things like Lay-Z-Boy or Friendship aren't even tracks - they're just cues which were likely only heard for a few seconds in the background of something, overwhelmed by dialogue. There are so many of these little snippets, and many - if not most - of them are fairly unremarkable. It's only when the composers get a chance to really stretch out that music becomes different and unique. The shorter cues rely on pretty standard synth tones, and while they work, they're not particularly memorable, outside the opening theme.
However, the longer pieces, such as Eleven, The Upside Down, No Weapons and the like really take advantage of the time they have and stretch out, using tones which stray from standard "1980s synth score" tropes. There are bell-like tones, stray piano notes, and bent chords: all of these things which show that Stranger Things, in its best moments, takes all of these things with which you're familiar, and turns them into something fresh and new.
Being as how the earlier episodes - from which this music is taken - deal more in exposition than outright adventure, one can at least understand the fact that the music is rather low-key. There’s not as much one can do as a composer with quiet, subtle moments, so that might account for why Dixon and Stein work so much in what might be considered clichés: plinking pianos, quietly elegiac tones, and the like.
Given that the second half of Stranger Things’ run was the crazier, more exciting one, perhaps there’s more adventurous music on the way. Given that the majority of the really fun stuff came in the back end of the series, once all the exposition was gotten out of the way, here’s to hoping the second volume really ups our musical interest beyond the opening theme (which, admittedly, is absolute aces).
STRANGER THINGS: VOLUME ONE (2016) / COMPOSER: KYLE DIXON, MICHAEL STEIN / LABEL: LAKESHORE RECORDS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW