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Four Tet - Live at Alexandra Palace London, 8th and 9th May 2019 Music Album Reviews

Kieran Hebden’s new live album reminds us that he is a stellar performer, not just a producer.
The British producer Kieran Hebden has one of the most distinctive signatures in electronic music. First, a gravelly drum machine; then, some jewel-toned synth pads; and, finally, a strip of harp or chimes or wordless cooing, unspooling like wrinkled ribbon.

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Various Artists - Stranger Things: Soundtrack From the Netflix Original Series, Season 3 Music Album Reviews

Madonna, “Weird Al” Yankovic, and a bizarre remix of the Who are all part of a soundtrack that speaks to the usual critiques of the frothy, summertime sci-fi tale.

Late in the third season of “Stranger Things,” two minor characters attend a Fourth of July fair. One of them, an American, tells the other that all the games are rigged, a way for the rich to line their pockets. His companion decides to try his luck anyway. With a crowd watching, he wins the grand prize in a dart throwing competition. See, the game wasn’t rigged after all! Then, he’s shot in the abdomen.


It’s a confused parable that speaks to the Duffer Brothers’ usual sledgehammer-approach to symbolism. Like their viewers, the show's creators are keen to celebrate an America they know isn’t real, and never was. Every so often, it behooves them to pretend they’re jaded. The soundtrack to this season, too, plants itself firmly between veneration and cynicism, allowing the show to celebrate the blockbuster era of Spielberg, Hughes, and Heckerling while winking at their viewers: We know you’ve seen this before.

The opening song here is a remix of the Who’s “Baba O’Reilly” from Confidential Music, a Los Angeles based duo that churns out music for movie trailers. (The mix appeared in the preview for this season). It’s a chop-job, Pete Townshend’s strained teenage angst cut with the show’s signature synthesizers and molded into a conventional trailer score with a climax big enough to push you straight into an all-night binge. Americana, but a little uneasy. Get it?

Other music choices echo the half-steppin’ the show is fond of. There’s something charming about the obviousness of “Material Girl” as the backdrop to a mall montage early in the season in which Millie Bobbie Brown and Sadie Sink bond through shopping and the male teens of the cast bond through fear of women’s sexuality. It’s a perfect fit: the Madonna song is another undeniable piece of pop art that implies a critique without exactly getting there.

Another scene from the same episode finds “Weird Al” Yankovic’s “My Bologna,” which came out in 1979, standing in for actual character development. The boys’ science teacher has played a purely instrumental role; he’s Velma, but he never gets to tag along in the Mystery Machine. Because he’s a depthless weirdo, he does random science stuff while listening to “Weird Al” in the background (instead of the Knack’s original.) In a scene featuring Joe Keery (Steve) or Dacre Montgomery (Billy), the Knack would otherwise fit in perfectly well with other classic rock chestnuts like Foreigner's “Cold As Ice,” John Mellencamp’s “R.O.C.K. In the U.S.A.” and REO Speedwagon “Can’t Fight This Feeling.”

It’s a tell that the best episodes from this season—four, five and six—lean less on radio hits of the ’80s and more on the assured work of Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein of S U R V I V E, who have conveyed the mood of the show since the beginning. The two pop songs from these episodes are some of the best on the album: The Pointer Sisters classic “Neutron Dance,” which of course has memorably showed up onscreen before and Vera Lynn’s “We’ll Meet Again,” the old-timey camp artificiality of which is perfectly suited to one of the show’s patented cliffhangers.

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There are great musical moments in this season that didn’t appear on this soundtrack. Yello, the Swiss duo who found their way into Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, have a cameo in the finale in the form of their great “Goldrush II.” That doesn’t make the cut. Neither does any of Dixon and Stein’s typically excellent synth work, which has previously been featured on the show’s official “soundtracks.” (This time it appears on a separate score.) The Danny Elfman and Philip Glass compositions that lend drama to the show are also absent. These missing tracks make this soundtrack less substantive than the show, which, despite its familiar plot points, distinguishes itself through smart pacing, nice action set pieces, strong performances from most of its core cast, and yes, its instrumental score.

It’s a shame that a shallow collection of songs like this exposes the otherwise moving and enjoyable “Stranger Things” to the most obvious critiques. This soundtrack makes it clear what we’re all doing when we indulge in this cutting-edge summer escapism. I can’t even pretend to be thinking too hard when I watch this lightly remixed tale of good and evil where the evil isn’t all that threatening. Sure, things are bad, a monster lurks, and an army of people has been possessed by an inexplicable and evil energy. But the good guys will win. They always do. Right? Right?


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