The arrival of Stranger Things marked a bold turning point for ’80s film touchstones. Bursting from the nostalgic fetishisation that’s cultivated well over the past half-decade, the appeal of a simpler time has slingshot back in forms of VCR filters, synth-laden soundscapes, and perfectly constructed odes to Steven Spielberg, Stephen King, George Lucas, and most importantly, John Carpenter. With the arrival of Stranger Things 2 happening this week, we decided to touch back on the feathery keyboard glimmers that defined the cult-hit and list our favourite ’80s-inspired soundtracks along the way.
Stranger Things 2 OST — Kyle Dixon / Michael Stein (2017)
Kicking off the list is the second installment of Stranger Things, with Stranger Things 2 OST conjuring up similar sonic textures felt in the first season. Echoing the series tonal shifts from daydreams to nightmares, each track builds upon the next, bike-riding between warm melodies heard in ‘Home’ and tripping over the menacing, all-consuming ‘It’s a Trap’. A fantastic follow-up to the first soundtrack, composers Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein serve 34 authentic iterations of their ’80s-inspired melodrama, immediately recognisable as great television music.
It Follows — Disasterpeace (2015)
Coming from a background of video game soundtracks, Disasterpeace—the moniker of Rich Vreeland—creates a diligent and cohesive soundtrack for 2014 cult-hit horror film, It Follows. There are several recurring motifs that define the soundtrack—from crashing percussion to shrill overlapping klaxons—each melody feels corrupt and chopped at the seams. With a tense whirling hum that foreshadows each agonising din, ‘Heels’ and ‘Old Maid’ both come as triumphant examples of tension-building: each track lulls in a wash of echoes before thrusting listeners into a chaotic collision of droning synths. An ode to John Carpenter both visually and aurally, the score uses these themes to signal impending doom and teenage fantasy; ‘Jay’ balancing darker times with sweet-sounding nervousness.
Under The Skin — Mica Levi (2014)
Having put out numerous experimental pop records with her band Micachu & The Shapes, classically trained UK multi-instrumentalist Mica Levi produces a mesmerising debut into film scoring. Released in 2014, the sci-fi film Under The Skin follows the nature of an alien succubus, with Levi creating atmospheres that are appropriately otherworldly. Often slow and warped, tracks clash from ‘Lipstick to Void’ and fall back on minimal percussion as heard in ‘Love’. A jarring collection of songs, the dark nature of the film finds its true bearings in these arrangements and drops off frantically in final track ‘Alien Loop’.
Palo Alto — Various Artists (2014)
While the film oversells affections often, the soundtrack for Palo Alto is a pleasant enough ode to pop music. The soundtrack shines brightest when Devonté Hynes takes reign; the title track swooping softly to spell a mood that is both hyper-romantic and melancholic. Although this midtempo ballad doesn’t throw any challenging punches at his own works as Blood Orange (heard through ‘Champagne Coast’ and ‘You’re Not Good Enough’), ‘April’s Daydream’ comes as an unintended reminder of the swollen croons of Prince and of Hynes’ synesthesia. Led by an array of keyboards and instrumentals, Robert Schwartzman’s contributions should also be noted—his synth pads building an angst, teen-felt atmosphere.
Beyond The Black Rainbow — Sinoia Caves (2010)
The second release of Sinoia Caves, Black Mountain’s Jeremy Schmidt, Beyond The Black Rainbow is a prime example of how a carefully crafted score can withstand the test of emulating time. From ‘Arboria Tapes – Award Winning Gardens’ to the strange synths of ‘1983 – Main Titles’, each track alludes to far-off memories of ’80s video games and film, with subtle nods to John Carpenter and Goblin that translates perfectly into the film’s main narrative devices. With visual storytelling at the forefront, the score works well as a kind of expository dialogue—each stranger orchestral vocal reflecting the human experience a changing value with the creation of unreliable technology.
Did our list of soundtracks inspire you this spooky season? If you’re drawn to music and audio production, check out our opportunities to study at Collarts and build your skills for performing, mastering or writing soundtracks. Or hey, don’t miss Stranger Things 2, coming out on Netflix this Friday, October 27. Words by Monique Myintoo.