So I saw this show once on TV where there was this ragtag group of kids that befriended another kid that was different from them. These kids had lost one of their pals and the pal was presumed dead by everyone. But these kids(and the missing kid’s mom) knew different. They knew their friend and son wasn’t dead. He’d been taken away to a dark place. A place where the world had been turned inside out…upside down, even. It was a pretty amazing show. The acting was great, it was shot beautifully, and the music was absolutely unbelievable. Dark, hypnotic synth that surged throughout the entire series. It was wonderful.
No, the show wasn’t The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Yes, it was Stranger Things. I’ve been obsessed with the show and its music since I first double-downed on the entire 8-episode series on a Friday and Saturday night in July. By the 3rd episode my son had even said “Too bad they didn’t have this soundtrack on vinyl.” Well by October they did and I had it. Played it with vigor, and relish. That soundtrack was created by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein(yeah, I’m sure you know that already.) They’re in the Austin, TX band SURVIVE, which is a heavy synth 4-piece. I thought they’d released their debut album RR7439, which I bought up as quickly as it hit my local record shop. It ended up being one of my favorite albums of the year, but it also ended up that it wasn’t their debut album. Well, it was their debut with the most excellent Relapse Records, but they self-released a record called mnq026 back in 2012. After much procrastination and contemplation I found a copy of that debut on the fantastic(and quite dangerous) Discogs for a decent price and couldn’t pass it up.
After a few listens I’m comfortable in saying that I think it’s my favorite SURVIVE release. I love RR7439, but mnq026 feels a little darker; heaped up with the atmospheric haze and woozy soundscapes. There’s less beat-driven songs and more dreamy noises on this one. I’m pretty impressed with fact that they’ve been doing the whole heavy synth thing since 2009(though Slasher Film Festival Strategy has been rocking the synth game since 1998, son.) This album certainly sounds like three years worth of EPs and lots of basement jams with Junos and Moogs. mnq026 sounds like a group that’s found their sound and are relishing that fact.
I love an album that after a couple listens starts revealing hidden messages and layers. SURVIVE are a band that layer. With 4 dudes all playing synthesizers you can be sure there’s some heady layering going on. “Deserted Skies” opens the record with some of those dense layers. It plays like a film score. Some strange sci-fi flick, I’d imagine. Something from the mid-80s, I’d imagine. Seems to be this Austin crew’s modus operandi, and I’m good with that. Another major banger is “Floating Cube”. It sounds like a cross between Tangerine Dream and The Human League. If there were some female vocals hanging overhead this could’ve been a hit in 1984. Speaking of 1984, “Hourglass” is another time machine of a track and one of the few tracks with some serious Casio-leaning drum programming. It also puts me in mind of Brad Fiedel’s underappreciated score to Fright Night(the 1985 original, that is.) “Omniverse” keeps that vibe going nicely with a pulsating synth throughout. “Black Mollies” has a Rudiger Lorenz vibe, but more dark synth and less new age-y. It’s also an epic track that lingers on for over 6 minutes.
Elsewhere, “Scalar Wave” is ominous synth groaning. Much like RR7439′s “Low Fog”, this one feels like a trip through a black hole with your mind on fire with hallucinogens. “Shunting Yard” and “Dirge” end the album nicely, complete with existential motifs and analog beauty to fall into the abyss to.
I’m interested to see where these guys go from here. At the moment they’re still the current favorite flavor. Whether that remains the case for long remains to be seen. They’ll at least get a bit of momentum when Stranger Things 2 arrives next October, but I hope that’s not all they get. SURVIVE are a unique beast in the genre, as they seem to be able to find a nice balance between heady noise making and catchy melodies. There’s a real intellectual side to the music they create, yet even the novice can walk into the middle of a SURVIVE song and dig it.
mnq026 is one hell of a debut. It’s inspired some pondering, meandering, and some serious air synth. Yes, air synth is a real thing. Google it.