Stranger Things Season Two S/T : Kyle Dixon & Michael Stein

So let’s get this out of the way right off the bat: Stranger Things Season Two wasn’t as good as season one. Okay, I said it. After immediately finishing(binge watching) the second season of Stranger Things way back in October I was concentrating on all the good I sat and watched in one weekend. The Duffer Brothers continued to hit the right notes, but there was a bit of slag in this season as well. There were some missteps character-wise, and some plot lines and story diversions that could’ve been handled better.

There was plenty that was great about it, for sure. The Hopper/Eleven dynamic was great, Dustin continues to be a great character that delivers comic relief while showing some depth in the last episode, the Lucas/Max relationship is sweet and opens Lucas’ character up quite a bit. Billy Hargrove is a new and menacing force in the Stranger Things universe. He seems to be on the edge of going full psychopath at any moment, and his look is like Jason Patric from Lost Boys meets Jean Claude Van Damme with a touch of homo-eroticism. He’s a strange character, and in some ways far scarier than any demogorgon could ever be. And that whole last episode gave me so many feels I wasn’t sure what to do with all of them(I boxed them up and am saving them for a day when I need a pick-me-up.)

So the not-so-good. Well for one the pacing seemed really off to me. Lots of time wasted on things that never really paid off(like Dustin and his pet demogorgon for one.) Mike was a bit too whiny far too long for my taste, especially for as strong a character as he was in season one. As much as I liked the new menace of Billy Hargrove, at times it seemed almost a little too over-the-top. The end “battle” was pretty anti-climactic. Not really the payoff I was hoping for. And episode seven. Rushed, truncated, and everything about it was just off. I get why there needed to be that episode, but they should’ve taken their time with it. They should’ve built it over two episodes. That’s just me.

Despite this season’s shortcomings, I still really enjoyed it. I still got the good feels, the laughs, and the characters continued to grow on me. I’m excited to see how they grow and where the overall story goes from here. There is one thing that improved exponentially from season one to season two and that’s the score by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein.

I feel the guys really honed in on the kids and the emotions they’re going through. The first season had a lot of menace and that came through in the music. With season two the duo of Dixon & Stein concentrated on the emotional ups and downs that Mike, Dustin, Lucas, Eleven, Will, and the dysfunctional adults of Hawkins, Indiana were going thru. “Walkin In Hawkins”, “Home”, and “Eulogy” are downright melancholy, with the latter sounding like it was recorded on a little Casio keyboard in some Midwestern bedroom after a funeral. “The First Lie” sounds like it could’ve been the start of a Spandau Ballet song. “I Can Save Them” has some Tangerine Dream magic kneaded into the S U R V I V E vibes.

There’s still plenty of musical dread, too. “Descent into the Rift” sounds like a Kaiju rising from the watery depths to destroy mankind and “Chicago” is ominous in its growling synths and arpeggiated wails. It’s like Steve Moore decided to sit in for a scene or two. “Run” has an almost new age feel, while “Levitation” pushes an almost industrial sound. It’s all mechanical and Juno strings.

Overall, Dixon and Stein outdid themselves with Stranger Things Season Two. Where they could’ve just phoned in highlights from season one and most folks wouldn’t have noticed or cared, they created a score that nearly rivals what they did first time around. They made music for those of us that look for the score to help us find a way in emotionally. The music is as vital a character as Eleven, Hopper, Will, and Mike. And at times it steals the show.

So supposedly there’s two more seasons of Stranger Things coming. By the time we get to that last season the Hawkins crew will be at least in high school. What evil lies ahead? Will the white-haired Matthew Modine reappear? Will Wynona Ryder take a shower at some point? Will we see some acid-washed jeans make an appearance? Could there be a crossover episode with the kids from Explorers, Goonies, and Stranger Things coming together to fight the local pastor-turned-werewolf? We’ll just have to wait and see. In the meantime, cue up Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein’s Stranger Things Season Two S/T and think of the possibilities.

8.2 out of 10

Jhubner73 Presents : Favorite Soundtracks of 2016

Besides being a pretty amazing year for new albums, there have been some amazing film and television scores that have come out in 2016. Now a couple of the soundtracks I picked up this year technically were released in 2015, but that’s merely a technicality. I bought them and loved them in 2016 so they’re ending up on this year’s list.

Here, without further adieu, is my list of favorite scores of 2016.

10. The Dust Brothers : Fight Club S/T

dsc05012Fight Club hasn’t aged all that well with me. I discussed this in great length just a couple weeks ago, but that was only in an effort to praise just how good the score by Michael Simpson and John King, aka The Dust Brothers was. Due to the film’s dark humor and overall dreary atmosphere the soundtrack needed to facilitate the mood in that direction. The score is like a dark trip-hop album, with bits of light and gallows humor dispersed throughout. If it wasn’t called Fight Club S/T it could just be considered a great trip-hop album. The Dust Brothers are no strangers to creating mood through a musical patchwork of loops and samples, and here they work to make David Fincher’s cult hit much better than it really was.

9. Hans Zimmer & Junkie XL : Batman V Superman : Dawn Of Justice S/T

dsc05018I’ll be perfectly honest here, the only reason I bought this album was because of my 11-year old son. We saw the movie in the theater and he was much more of a fan than I was. When the record was released I had no intention of buying it, but when he saw it he was like “That would be great to have, wouldn’t it?” I can’t deny my son’s enthusiasm for vinyl buying, so I chucked the $35 at my local record store guy and grumbled to myself as I walked to my car. Truth be told, it’s a pretty amazing score on its own. Zimmer knows how to create mood for a film, and with Junkie XL adding a bit of ADHD energy to the whole affair it turns out to be a damn good score. It’s sprawled across five sides of vinyl, with the 6th side being a killer etching.

Be prepared to have some serious play fighting in the living room and some fist-to-pillow violence when you play this one in the house.

8. Mogwai : Atomic S/T

dsc05021Mogwai have found something that can keep them working until they want to retire: film scoring. If they grow tired of trying to reinvent what they started nearly 20 years ago they can write someone else’s vision. Atomic is the score to a documentary about the bombs being dropped on Japan and it paints a subtle musical interpretation of the film’s darker themes. With their score of Les Revenents and the new Leonardo DiCaprio documentary Before The Flood, in which they collaborate with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, they show that they’re far more than purveyors of the post-rock crown. In fact, they’ve melted the crown down and made really nice cufflinks out of it. Something they can wear when they’re nominated for their first ‘Best Film Score’ award.

7. Kreng : Camino S/T

dsc05020I first heard Kreng, aka Pepijn Caudron, last year when he created one of my favorite scores for the horror/comedy Cooties. This year he scored the thriller Camino. I have not seen Camino, but if the score is any indication it’s one hell of a ride. Kreng shifted gears this time around and went for a more orchestral sound, leaving the trip-hop vibes for another project. There’s lots of shrieking strings and tense use of sound effects, with an overall heavy vibe. Kreng has become one of my favorite composers and I look forward to whatever he has coming up next.

6. Kurt Stenzel : Jodorowsky’s Dune S/T

dsc05017Kurt Stenzel created an intimate synth score for Frank Pavich’s doc about the Alexander Jodorowsky’s doomed attempt at bringing Frank Herbert’s Dune to life. Stenzel uses pieces of conversation from the film and works them in seamlessly to space-y synth and guitar that at times almost feels mystical in its use. It’s an existential trip that I think Jodorowsky would be quite fond of, if he hasn’t yet heard it.

5. Various Artists : Lost Highway S/T

dsc05019I think it’s safe to say that David Lynch’s Lost Highway was one of the most batshit crazy films of the nineties, and one of Lynch’s most absurd films(that’s saying a lot, people.) But if you looked past the doppleganger twists, noir-in-Hell story, and Robert Blake’s frightening makeup the movie had a pretty solid soundtrack. Bowie, Trent Reznor, Smashing Pumpkins, Lou Reed, NIN, and Angelo Badalamenti. The soundtrack was produced by Reznor and it has the flavor Reznor holed up in a house freaking out. It’s great having this thing finally available on vinyl.

4. Ben Lovett : Synchronicity S/T

dsc05014I hadn’t heard of the film prior to seeing that it’s score was being released by Mondotees/Death Waltz, but all it took were a couple snippets on Soundcloud for me to engage my Paypal acct into buying mode. The score is exquisitely classic neo-futuristic synth. A cross between classics like Vangelis and Tangerine Dream with some more modern touches, in-particular Sinoia Caves work on the Beyond The Black Rainbow. Lovett made the film much better than it deserved to be. It wasn’t horrible, but too convoluted for its own good(great casting though, with Michael Ironside and AJ Bowen in supporting roles.) If you like listening to Blade Runner as much as watching it, you should already own this score.

3. Cliff Martinez : The Neon Demon S/T

dsc05013Cliff Martinez can do no wrong in my eyes. His work only elevates whatever film it’s accompanying. He’s created this symbiotic relationship with director Nicolas Winding Refn, much like he did with Steven Soderbergh, where everything work together and becomes all the better by that artistic relationship. The Neon Demon is over-the-top and over indulgent, but that’s how it should be. Any kind of restraint and it just wouldn’t work as well. Martinez turns the score into a thumping techno musical world where dream and reality collide and embrace, bleeding all over each other. It’s his most intense score yet.

2. Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein : Stranger Things S/T Volume 1 and 2

dsc05009This will be the last you hear me utter “Stranger Things” for the rest of the year. I’m sure once season 2 hits I’ll start yacking about this show again, but until then this is it. The Duffer Bros locked into something with their debut show that a whole hell of a lot of us absorbed and took in like clean oxygen after being under a heavy quilt for too long. It was a refreshing take on the 80s kid films where everyone wasn’t a model and happy endings weren’t always a given. Stranger Things took the “rag tag group of outsiders” storyline and gave it new life with some new faces and some underused ones as well. Science fiction colliding with horror colliding with friendship created this year’s best television. To authenticate the nostalgia factor the Duffer Bros tapped Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein of Austin synth band SURVIVE to score their Netflix original series. The results? Classic 80s sound with deft modern touches. The score grabbed me before I saw a single shot of the actual show. The opening credits scene with the pulsating synthesizer hooked me instantly. The show could’ve been just okay and I would’ve continued on because of that music. Fortunately the show was spot-on.

Truly top notch.

And last but not least, the best among a sea of best: Mac Quayle : Mr. Robot S/T Volume 1 and 2

dsc05008No show surprised me more than Sam Esmail’s Mr. Robot. Both season 1 and 2 were original pieces of television, putting the dark world that David Fincher has created in cinema and put it smack dab on cable TV(it’s on USA Network.) One of the most important aspects of the show is the music. It creates this world of musical ones and zeros that go to enhance the paranoid world of our protagonist Elliot Alderson. The music is this electronic pulse that seems to push the characters along in strange and dark places. You don’t know who to trust or what to believe is reality and what is part of the character’s failing mind. Mac Quayle’s scoring technique takes a few cues from the Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross playbook, using vintage sound and posing them in a modern world of tech geeks and international computer hacking. Quayle works subtly. It works so well that you don’t notice how good it is till you can enjoy the score completely on its own. It’s a riveting musical world that would appeal to electronic music fans and fans of background noise while you study or melt into the furniture.

Mac Quayle takes the prize as far as I’m concerned. Can’t wait to see what he does from here.

I bought a lot of soundtracks this year, and none were disappointing. These were the 10 that I obsessed over the most, but here’s a few more that were pretty great.

Angelo Badalamenti : Twin Peaks S/T – David Lynch. Angelo Badalamenti. Agent Cooper. ‘Nuff said.

Daredevil S/T : John Palesano and Jessica Jones S/T : Sean Callery – Arrived late into the year, but incredible scores to some more amazing television. Plus bonus for some incredible artwork.

Atticus and Leopold Ross & Bobby Krlic : Almost Holy S/T – Intense score for the intense doc Almost Holy about a priest trying to save drug-addled teens in the streets of Mariupol, Ukraine. The score has the electronic leanings of the Ross bros with Krlic’s darker, gothic tones of The Haxan Cloak.

Howard Shore : Nightcrawler S/T – Score for the 2015 thriller starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo. Released this year through Invada Records, this score stands out as a more leaner, grittier sound than Shore has done in the past.

Brad Fiedel : The Terminator S/T – C’mon, why wouldn’t this end up on a list of favorite scores? It’s been long out-of-print, so some geniuses decided to put it back out on vinyl because they knew suckers like me would buy it up. They were right. I did. And I have no regrets. Fiedel knocked it out of the park with this one. Don’t agree? Then “f**k you, a**hole”.

Up next: Favorite records of 2016(numbers 25-11)