Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein seemed to know what they were doing when they formed and created the score to the Duffer Bros Stranger Things. They captured a feeling in those synth-heavy pieces that you can’t just get from a plug-in you use in some computer-based program. These were hands-on pieces; meticulously strung together using man-made boxes, circuits, and analog magic. I was enthralled(by the show and score equally.) Where did these guys come from? They seemed to have appeared from the ether, like two time-traveling synth nerds that stepped out of space/time pods from 1978 with an arsenal of exquisite analog synths, sequencers, and possibly bright, chrome space suits. Turns out Stein and Dixon aren’t space-traveling synth marauders at all. They’re one half of an Austin, TX synth band called SURVIVE, though for some Austin, TX is pretty alien anyways.
Besides Dixon and Stein, SURVIVE also consists of Mark Donica and Adam Jones. If you give their Bandcamp page a look you’ll see they’ve actually been putting music out since 2010, with the band officially coming together in 2008. So all this success seems to be a long time coming. My first post-Stranger Things listen by the band is their excellent new LP titled RR7349. It’s everything you’d hope from a group that tapped into the zeitgeist of early 80s nostalgia wielding synths as their weapons of choice. Though, while Stranger Things had a backdrop of the Spielberg 80s and latchkey kids, RR7349 is more a mid-70s trip, all warm and bubbling synths taking us into darker territories. It’s definitely more Phaedra than Tangram.
In an interview Dixon and Stein conducted during the perfect storm aftermath of Stranger Things, the guys had said they like making music that you can’t tell what era it was released. They don’t want to date the music they make, and RR7349 definitely has a timeless vibe. There’s no icy cold digital imprints like a lot of the early 80s synthesizer sounds had. No heavily reverbed electronic drums. Opening track “A.H.B.” is a dark and looming affair. It seems to take the heavy sounds of 70s synth albums and add an 80s sense of melody. It’s a striking juxtaposition that these Austin natives do very well throughout the album. “Other” sounds like Tangerine Dream and Giorgio Moroder collaborating on a Michael Mann film. It’s otherworldly and atmospheric. “Dirt” has the sound of a sci fi nightmare, droning synths and what sound like shots from a laser cannon fly by your ears as some existential battle rages on around you. There’s a Jean Michel Jarre vibe here as well, like a grand space opera is happening amongst the action.
Elsewhere, “Wardenclyffe” captures both a cosmic feeling of dread and longing. Much like Sinoia Caves’ Jeremy Schmidt does so well on his records, SURVIVE create such an emotional and intense trip on “Wardenclyffe”. “Low Fog” is an exquisite, droning piece that sounds like both dread and peaceful abyss. “Copter” sounds a bit like Com Truise on a Goblin wave, while “Cutthroat” has a Italian giallo vibe to it. Perfect way to end this heady synth trip.
I think what’s great about SURVIVE is that they don’t seem to be wanting to tell a specific story throughout their album. Each song is a feeling and vibe. RR7349 isn’t a concept record. It’s 9 individual trips you take. Where the songs move you is up to you. It’s an album that will satisfy and engage the most refined synth lover and enthusiast.
I also love the fact that there’s a history in this band. They weren’t just conceived out of thin air to make some nostalgic music for a TV show. They’ve been at it for years. Stranger Things was the open window, and RR7349 is SURVIVE taking flight.