I make something of a living by writing about things, but every time I listen to one of Magnus Sellergren's compositions, I find myself at a loss for words. Partly this comes from a deficit on my part: I listen to a wide variety of music across a multitude of genres, but I don't often write about it. Unlike video games or books, I feel I'm unsuited to the duties required of a music reviewer. But when I hear something as unique, as gorgeous, as darkly intense and satisfying as Sellergren's work, the immovable object of my deficit in music reviewing skills smacks square against the unstoppable force of my desire to tell people about what I've just heard.
I was first introduced to the Videogram label two years ago in October of 2015. A new music video making the rounds called Voorhees Stomp got my attention by marrying Sellergren's killer (if you'll pardon the pun) take on iconic music from Friday the 13th with Aaron Romero's skills at sprite and video manipulation. Romero's lovingly-crafted video pulled sprites from the NES versions of Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street to re-tell the story of Friday the 13th: Part VIII. Now Jason's a lonely hockey-masked dude who only wants some friends for an epic dance party at Camp Crystal Lake. Unfortunately no one on the cruise ship passing by or on the streets of Manhattan is willing to join him voluntarily, which results in a lot of bloodshed. It's hilarious, it's cute, and I couldn't get enough.
Now, nearly two years after the release of Voorhees Stomp and Pre-Cert (the album containing the track), Magnus is back with a new horror-themed EP on his brand new SelectaVision label. Entitled Test Subject 011, each of the four tracks is inspired by the Netflix original show Stranger Things. Once again, I find myself at a loss for words, as I'm one of the seven people on the planet who've not seen the show...a problem made twice as embarrassing for me as I live in Indiana, the very state where the show takes place.
So maybe I don't quite understand what the album's title references, or who Dr. Brenner is, or what's really going on at Hawkins National Laboratory. This doesn't matter in the slightest—Magnus's music is just as intense, just as driving, just as aurally intoxicating here as on his other albums. The title track, Test Subject 011, lays down a compelling backdrop of dance-worthy beats, then overlays them with gorgeous minor-key synth work that can't help but bring a serious horror vibe to anyone familiar with compositions by John Carpenter, Ennio Morricone, or Marco Beltrami. Dr. Brenner, the B-side, is a more upbeat but no less dark track which brought to my mind a scene of someone trying to escape from a relentless pursuer. A repeated sample of an intercom call paging the titular doctor turns things sinister: we're clearly in a hospital or lab, and this routine request for the doctor's attention contrasts with the far-from-routine atmosphere generated by the track. It's a beautiful, if disturbed, marriage, and I love it.
The physical LP release is a thing of beauty, featuring sleeve artwork that looks aged and worn the way many albums do after being stored for several decades, already putting the listener in the mindset of the time period Sellergren wants you in before you even drop the needle. The plain black record inside with the simple reddish-orange label print wouldn't look out of place in your dad's vinyl collection from forty years ago. Simplicity really does have its place, and the proof is right here.
To create a soundscape based on a modern-day original series but have it so beautifully accessible that no knowledge of the show, the characters, or the soundtrack is required to enjoy it takes skill. Magus has those chops, and if you're a fan of classic 70's and 80's horror, Test Subject 011 belongs in your collection. Grab it on its September 1st release date, because if you miss this one, you'll be kicking yourself for a long time after.
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