Scoring a Netflix series is a rare triumph in itself, but it’s not likely that Survive, the Austin analog synth quartet that soundtracked Stranger Things, knew that glowing red logo would become like Coca Cola in the states, and that those four child actors would virtually turn into today’s Beatles. They also might not have foreseen that swelling arpeggio they composed for the opening theme would be come the sci-fi anthem of a generation, which now raises the knuckle hairs of anyone that owns a television or laptop within a second of hearing it. This is the slam dunk that every bedroom-dwelling analog synth geek dreams of landing, and if a newly released copy of the Stranger Things official soundtrack wasn’t enough, Survive are doubling their 2016 output with a brand new studio album, RR7349, and its time-traveling electronic motifs are even more sonically scrumptious than those of their Stranger Things opus.
Like their previous LPs and EPs, RR7349 is named after the album’s catalogue number, though this is their first on cult label Relapse Records, home to a mosaic of doom metal, hardcore punk, and electronic acts. The album begins with “A.H.B.” on a filthy beam of distortion that burns into a bevy of brighter tones, backed by a dusty drum loop that might have been deemed too retro for Prince in his prime. After a few minutes of the same progression, the tempo lurches downward and we are suddenly adrift in a phaser-soaked portamento wormhole. Whatever “A.H.B.” stands for, it is something epic.
What notably separates RR7349 from many electronic or ambient records is its conciseness. While other ambient and electronic artists rely on ad nauseam swaths of time to achieve that ethereal trance, Survive makes their statement in nine tracks, most clocking to less than five minutes each. The sounds are so synesthetic and visually evocative, listeners may find themselves concocting their own imaginary film to accompany the sounds, the abstract neon landscape on the album cover as its source material. The hypnotic rhythms and robust bass lines qualify it as “driving music,” the kinds of songs that could slip into a workout compilation or a “chill wave” playlist depending on the track. Standouts include “Wardenclyffe” with its pulsing sub bass that echoes the dark dance grooves of retrofuturist contemporary Big Black Delta, and the subsequent “Sorcerer,” a minor-key, John Carpenter-esque nightmare that might even perk the ears of some of Relapse’s death metal disciples.
This versatility is patently difficult to achieve without a single bar of vocals or organic instrumentation, which is a true testament to the deft knob-twiddling hands of each Survive member. It’s also a reminder of the bulletproof cohesiveness and mood that an all-synth album can achieve under the right players. In an age where instrumental electronic music is too often condemned as “background music,” RR7349 envelops the listener for 45 uninterrupted minutes. Stranger Things season two may be months and months away from release, but no modern piece of work brings us a similar rush of fantastical nostalgia like Survive’s latest.
Survive’s new album RR7349 is out September 30th via Relapse Records. You can download the album via their Bandcamp page. Additionally, Survive are performing in Los Angeles at the Echoplex on Thursday, October 6. Visit the Echoplex’s website for ticket information.
Words: Jamie Lawlor