John Carpenter ‘Lost Themes’ Review: he’s all out of bubblegum, because this album kicks ass.
When filmmaker/composer John Carpenter announced his new album Lost Themes, one assumed it contained unused music from his impressive filmography. When he later clarified it’s actually his first album of non film-related music, it was an equally exciting proposition. But it also begged the question: why did he wait so long?
Truthfully, the timing couldn’t be more perfect.
Carpenter was always ahead of the curve. While he had smash hits (Halloween, Escape From New York). he also had sizable critical and commercial flops (The Thing, Big Trouble In Little China) that would take years to be rightfully reappraised as genre classics.
Likewise his futuristic synthesizer scores sound perfectly current in the 21st century, influencing electronic artists like Kavinksy, The Chromatics and Mike Simonetti (just listen to the Drive or The Guest soundtracks for proof).
And now Carpenter’s here to show the kids how it’s done.
Speaking of kids: Lost Themes (due February 3rd on Sacred Bones Records) is a family affair: Carpenter recorded it with son Cody and Godson Daniel Davies (composer of I, Frankenstein) after extensive jam sessions.
In a recent interview with Billboard, Carpenter states: The album is for the movies that are playing in your mind. Everybody has a movie in their head. I want you to take my album, put it on, turn down the lights, sit there and listen and start fantasizing. See the movie you got in your mind. My album is the score for it. And it fully succeeds in his intent. It’s a truly immersive experiment.
Lead single Vortex is classic chilly Carpenter, where a somber piano intro leads into menacing pulsing synths that conjure images of Snake Plissken on the run from silent marauders.
The second single, Night, is also a patented Carpenter soundscape: eerie synth arpeggios flanked by fog banks of string samples-perfect for an evening drive to a remote destination.
Both tracks feature his trademark stark minimalism. But what may surprise Carpenter fans is hearing him at his most liberated, where he ventures into more prog-rock song structures (perhaps inspired by son Cody Carpenter’s prog project Ludrium).
Obsidian is a perfect example: a 9 minute epic that starts with glacial synths before leading into a churning unrelenting riff, augmented by guitars and organ stabs. It’s labyrinthine twists builds to an elegant and seamless composition. There are Giallo-like moments that bring to mind Carpenter’s soundtrack contemporaries Goblin (who’s Suspiria score inspired the Halloween theme).
Another of Carpenter’s influences, Tangerine Dream can be heard in the squiggling synths of Domain. That track also features the quirkiest, and most jarring moment of the album, a brief upbeat guitar break àpropos for an 80’s cop show or a Mannheim Steamroller piece. It’s the only tonally incongruous and potentially off putting moment of the album.
Mystery is another high point, starting off with crystalline synths ala Tubular Bells before escalating into metal territory akin to Ghost B.C.
It’s palpable that Carpenter and sons had a blast making this album, and their enthusiasm is contagious. This translates into immersive theater of the mind: you’ll feel a silent killer on your tail during the ascending keyboard outro to Abyss, and the sense of frightening haunted house isolation in Wraith.
The digital version of Lost Themes features several remixes, the most interesting being Zola Jesus’s gothic interpretation of Night. One wonders if a future album of Carpenter’s work with vocalists might be on the horizon?
Bottom line: the target audience for Lost Themes will certainly get what they wish for, but with more diverse content than they expect. If Carpenter’s filmmaking days are truly behind him, he still has a bright musical future ahead.
You can pre-order Lost Themes via Amazon and iTunes through the links below: