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

The Treehouse

A few months back I grabbed the soundtrack to a Belgian horror film called Cub. Not because I was particularly interested in the film(though I do plan on seeing it at some point), but because it was another film soundtrack by Zombi keyboardist/bassist Steve Moore. Moore has been making horror/progressive/futurist music with drummer Anthony Paterra for well over ten years now, melting minds with albums like Surface To Air, Escape Velocity, and most recently 2015s Shape Shift. I’d been listening to Zombi here and there over the years but took the plunge back in 2013 with their album Escape Velocity. This was amid one of my “heavy synth” phases(I’ve had several more since then), so that album hit all the right notes for me. It was like every song was this cool variation of Rush’ “YYZ” or any number of that Canadian trios plethora of instrumental moments over the years. But there was a darker element brought to Zombi’s sound that most other progressive bands never reach. These guys were influenced by the macabre and gothic and it came through in their music.

IMG_1893So last year I’d heard about a movie called The Guest. It was a thriller about a man that shows up at the front door of a grieving family saying he was a good friend of their sons who’d died overseas in the war. The stranger integrates himself into the family’s lives, and of course he’s not what he seems. I wrote about it here. The score was written and performed by none other than Steve Moore, and when I saw it come up for sale through those cool folks at Mondo/Death Waltz I snagged it up. Enter the Belgian flick Cub. It’s about a group of cub scouts that go out into the woods to camp. One of the scouts is a boy that is sort of the odd man out. Picked on and a bit of a loner he finds out the troop is in imminent danger and warns the bunch who mock him and think he’s just got an overactive imagination. Turns out he’s right, as the boys are being hunted by a young feral boy and his poacher father. This film was scored by Steve Moore as well, and if the flick is anything like the soundtrack it’s gotta be pretty good.

So how does it sound? Well it’s filled with all the building cues, ominous swells, and tribal drums that make for an engaging listen. There’s some Carpenter-esque moments, as well as harsher soundscapes like “The Truck” and the 11-minute “The Hunt”. “The Treehouse” feels like a loop of melancholy and oncoming dread. Moore’s hallmark synth wisps and tribal rhythms are present and accounted for here, but done so in a very meticulous narrative. Just like with his The Guest score, Cub does feel like it’s telling a story but it also feels very natural as a standalone record. You can put it on and let it fill the background as you’re cooking dinner, reading a book, or contemplating world domination without it getting in the way of your thought process. Bonus!

FullSizeRender (90)I’ve talked about many(many, many) soundtracks on these pages before, and for the most part I’ve enjoyed them all. Steve Moore seems to have tapped into a great thing here: scoring. He’s pretty much built for this kind of musical outlet. With Zombi, Moore and Paterra have been making songs inspired by films(and their subsequent scores) all along. Their love of the darker side of things as well as bands like Rush, Goblin, and horror films have permeated their music and creative process. It only seems natural for Steve Moore to delve into the world of film scoring.

With The Guest and now Cub he seems to only be getting better each time out.

 

Disasterpeace…Masterpiece

Let me preface this post first by saying I have not seen David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows….yet. I have every intention of watching it as soon as I can. It’s been on my radar for nearly a year now and from everything I’ve read about it to the trailer I am more than excited to watch it. But, giving that I’m a sucker for a great horror film score it’s no surprise that I now own the It Follows soundtrack on awesome blue and white vinyl. And let me just say, if the film is even half as good as Disasterpeace’s score, then the film is going to be an absolute classic.

I think there has been just as much talk about the soundtrack to this movie than there has been about the movie itself. Some might see that as a slight to Mitchell’s creation, but to me that can only be a good thing. A great score can make or break a movie, and especially in the horror genre. A great score can make a great film timeless. A great score can make a sub par film decent enough.

A perfect example of that is The Shining.

I just watched Kubrick’s much controversial 1980 adaptation of Stephen King’s 1977 isolation madness masterpiece. Now I say the film was controversial not because of its content, but of the fact that King hated it and that it was decidedly more “inspired” by King’s novel rather than a screen adaptation(I’m sure Stephen King still cashed those royalty checks despite not agreeing with Kubrick’s overall vision.) For me, The Shining still holds a type of claustrophobic genius and overall creepy smarts. There’s more there than just a haunted house and a guy falling for the charms of the ghouls that run the joint(I have watched Room 237, the doc about all the crazy theories that Kubrick was putting in hidden meanings and messages, and thought it was ridiculous.) Anyways, one of key elements to The Shining, besides Nicholson, was the score. The combination of Wendy Carlos’ synth pieces(the beginning scene with the camera floating above the water in the mountains is still undeniably genius), and Krzysztof Penderecki’s symphonic pieces pushed the film into another dimension. Into timelessness. I feel that Disasterpeace, aka Rich Vreeland, has done a similar thing with his score for It Follows. Now, since I haven’t seen the movie I can’t say that without a doubt the music enhances the film. I’ll just say with a score this good there’s nowhere but up from here.

When I talked to Vreeland back in February of this year I’d asked him if he was given specific points to hit with the score. Certain composers to pay homage to. He said director David Robert Mitchell had given him some directions to go at times, but still let Vreeland be creative. Indeed there are some definite moments where John Carpenter, Wendy Carlos, Charles Bernstein, and Cliff Martinez make their presence known in the musical vibes. But, Vreeland’s music as Disasterpeace, which is largely in the video game world, has its own distinct sound. It’s retro while still feeling very modern.

I have to admit that when I first heard his music I was imagining this guy holed up in a room somewhere surrounded by all these vintage synths and reel-to-reel tape machines driving himself mad all night trying to get that right oscillation or buzzsaw noise from a Prophet or Mini Moog. After our talk I found out that was absolutely not the case. In fact, Vreeland has almost no synths. He’s nearly all computer-based. Virtual synths and digital recording. He could take his whole gear setup along with him in a laptop. Not only that, but he doesn’t release anything on vinyl. He feels it’s a waste of natural resources and a hit on the environment. It’s all digital files for Disasterpeace. I was pretty bummed when I heard this, but I got it. There is an ease to the idea of that kind of simple living. Everything you need in a laptop. No muss no fuss. No lugging of heavy as hell keyboards. It’s all compact and ready to go. I respect that, really. You see, it’s just not me. I’m a textural guy. I like feeling the keys under my fingers. I like “things”, as they say. The clutter created by knobs, faders, circuits, and vacuum tubes. That’s just me. It’s obvious Disasterpeace doesn’t need all of that to create moody, emotional pieces of music that put you somewhere besides your own headspace. It doesn’t matter how you make your art, just as long as you make it and you mean it.

Also, fortunately for us(well, me at the very least) it was director David Robert Mitchell’s decision to put his film’s soundtrack out on vinyl. Vreeland gave his blessing to do so, so they did.

There’s such a great mix of incidental and emotional on here. Even though I haven’t seen the film yet, I can just imagine what the hell is happening in it during pieces like “Greg”, “Snare”, and “Pool”. You just know some serious shit is going down. You just know it.

If you’re a fan of classic synth scores; Carpenter, Carlos, Martinez come to mind, then you need to pick this album up. If you grew up in the 80s watching horror films on Betamax and VHS tapes then you will definitely want to own this album. If you’re concerned about the environment, then download it. But if you’re like me and you’re concerned about owning something real…something you can hold in your hands and covet like Gollum covets the ring, then get this thing on beautiful blue and white vinyl, put it on the turntable, and drop the needle.

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