Rolling Stone just listed their “50 Best Albums of 2016” and there’s a surprise appearance at #47 by the soundtrack to Netflix’s sci-fi/horror series, Stranger Things.
The recognition is for the theme and incidental music, composed by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein (not for any of the 1980s pop tunes that appear in the show). Like the rest of the series, it’s mostly referential to the era. The music’s synthesizer beats and creepy/tinny keyboards evoke a 1980s when John Carpenter was scoring his own movies using what sounded like a cheap, toy-store version of a Casio keyboard.
Fans of the music to Halloween, Escape from New York, or Big Trouble in Little China obviously love it. It’s also not hard to picture my students, who’ve never seen those films and weren’t alive in the 1980s, grooving to this soundtrack on earbuds while doing math homework at the library.
In hindsight, Stranger Things was probably the retro-SF event of 2016. It was engaging, fun, and pulled off the not-easy task of being kitschy and serious at the same time. It mined some elements of the 1980s that hadn’t been resurrected ad nausem yet: Stephen King mini-series adaptations, Spielberg’s Goonies and E.T., and all things Winona Ryder. Stein and Dixon’s music is part of that too.