Having one great, well-known work can be both a blessing and a curse. S U R V I V E—or more accurately, the band’s Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein—created the amazing soundtrack for Netflix’s Stranger Things that’s a perfect reflection of the show: It’s nostalgic yet modern, creepy yet compelling.
Sure, the reason you’re probably reading this is because S U R V I V E is “the band from Stranger Things.” Their work on the show is the most notable thing they’ve done so far, but that distinction also sells them short, because S U R V I V E is a completely capable synthwave group that’s been at it for the better part of a decade. They’re set to return with a new album, RR7349, on September 30, and it demonstrates a veteran understanding of how sound can create and then occupy a space fully.
Given the success of their Stranger Things soundtrack, S U R V I V E has brought greater awareness and acclaim to synthwave as a genre, and in order to appreciate their new album, it’s vital to understand what synthwave actually is (and its context in electronic and ambient music). The genre was spawned as a tribute to and modernized recreation of ’80s, new wave-leaning film soundtracks. Musically it’s touchstones stretch back to bands like Tangerine Dream and Goblin, whose music scored countless classics films throughout the late ’70s and ’80s. Since it’s based in soundtrack work, then, it’s fair to say the genre, and RR7349, has goals similar to those of ambient music, about which Brian Eno famously said, “It must be as ignorable as it is interesting.”
It is best to think about how the best film soundtracks function: They enhance scenes and moods without becoming a distraction. They have substance as a standalone product, but also serve to enhance the creative direction of a different medium. RR7349 achieves this with varying levels of success, which is a positive because although it sometimes feels like one, this album is not a soundtrack. Its only product is itself.
S U R V I V E’s latest is a record of peaks and valleys in terms of focus, in that it is at times a passive but comfortable listen that establishes a cinematic-like atmosphere that doesn’t command your attention but does reward it. Then there are more present songs whose immediate goal is to be in the forefront—like album opener “A.H.B.,” which comes off as a more sinister Com Truise or Chromatics, a tense and brooding track that could have scored a darker version of Kung Fury.
The trouble RR7349 faces is that, inevitably, it might disappoint Stranger Things fans, which, aside from previous devotees of the band, are likely to be the main audience for the record. A major part of the reason the Stranger Things soundtrack is so impactful is because of its associations with a beloved show, but that doesn’t mean it’s not musically legitimate. Fans who can see past that and accept S U R V I V E as its own entity will be rewarded with a strong, multi-dimensional album that is energetic and enthralling in its own right.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 burritos:
Featured Image: Netflix