2016 couldn’t have played out any better for Survive. Mere months before the release of the Austin electronic band’s most ambitious project yet, two of its members scored the surprise hit Netflix series Stranger Things. The music soon became the most universally acclaimed part of an already enormously popular show, and presto: where Survive once had a moderate amount of devoted synthwave junkies, they suddenly had thousands of fans from all over the musical spectrum. A built-in audience: every label promoter’s quest, and every independent artist’s dream.
Let’s just hope Survive doesn’t let their newfound fame get to their heads, because if RR7349 is any indication, they have the potential for a long and fruitful career. This is their fourth studio album (disclaimer: that number might not be 100% accurate, because the band is notoriously vague about how to classify their releases), but it carries itself with the sheer confidence of a debut. Add that to the maturity that comes from having a few releases under their belt, and you have one of 2016’s most cinematic and compelling electronic albums—and it stands in good company. “A.H.B.” sets the bar high from the start, establishing the record’s expansive, endearingly dated sound with legato synth pulses, reverberating drums, and skittering background melodies. The mixture of old and new that characterized the Stranger Things soundtrack returns in full force here. This time, it’s in the form of an unmistakably modern melodic progression underscored by a drum line that brings to mind a slowed-down disco track. You won’t hear this played in any self-respecting nightclub anytime soon (the drawn-out ritardando toward the end would kill the vibe pretty handily), but as a solo listening experience, it’s one hell of a ride. Other tracks play around with different types of synths, occasionally venturing into full-on sound effect territory; I’m pleasantly reminded of Aphex Twin’s early work when I hear the backing synth line of “Dirt”, which sounds like a laser gun straight out of a campy sci-fi film. “Copter”, the penultimate track, also deserves a special mention. Clocking in at over six minutes, it’s a fittingly epic climax for the album, and the band makes sure it earns that title. Pitch-shifted synthesized voices, complex drumming, and progression-focused songwriting all collide to create something legitimately awe-inspiring. Few artists can successfully pull off awe-inspiring. With this song, Survive asserts that they can be counted among that number.
While it’s easily their best release as a full band, RR7349 isn’t without its flaws. Its overreliance on formula is the most obvious one; almost every song follows the same structure, which begins with an explosion of synths and drums before breaking down two-thirds of the way through and transitioning to an extended outro. When the formula works this consistently and effectively, though, I find it hard to complain too heavily about it. Above all, RR7349 proves that Stranger Things was no fluke. Survive are clearly still in the process of perfecting their “analog equipment meets digital-age songwriting” sound, but for the first time in their career, I think they’ve come close to achieving that perfect harmony. And if all else fails, this’ll keep the Stranger Things fans happy until season 2. B PLUS