John Carpenter – Lost Themes (Sacred Bones Records)
LP / CD / DL
7.5 / 10
The man responsible for many of the horror genre’s most striking soundtracks has just released his debut solo album. Find out what Simon Tucker made of it by reading on.
John Carpenter is, rightly so, regarded as an icon in cinema. His films have managed to twist and turn conventions on their heads regardless of budget, creating many new and thrilling genres on the way. From Halloween to Big Trouble In Little China via Assault On Precinct 13, Carpenter has created seminal cinematic pieces which documented many of our fears and thoughts on internal and external pressures.
A main factor in the continued enjoyment of Carpenter’s films has been the original scores he (and some collaborators) have created to go with the pictures. Often made on a tight budget, these soundtracks utilized analogue synths and percussion to minimalistic but devastating effect leaving a lasting impression on the viewer long after the credits have rolled. Once you’ve heard the main motifs to Halloween, The Fog, or Assault.. you’ll never be able to forget them.
Lost Themes is Carpenter’s first debut album proper and sees the director, son Cody (from the band Ludrium) and godson Daniel Davies create from initial jam sessions, nine songs that contain enough traces of the signature Carpenter sound but also sees a fuller and more digital textural canvas emerging.
The album is not so much a collection of cues but more like songs created for a film yet to be made which in turn gives the authors greater freedom to explore themes and opposing emotional stances, often doing so in the same song.
The prime example of this ‘Obsidian’ which is an eight+ minute long epic which initially glistens into life before cavernous, Prog-infused guitars come wailing in transforming what started out as an eerie mood piece into a 70s cruncher, not unlike the works of Goblin. As Obsidian progresses time signatures change and more random instrumentation (which includes sleigh bells and cavernous drums that sound they like they were recorded in a room about a mile away) gets introduced.
Obsidian is a perfect example of what is good and what is not so great on Lost Themes as on one hand it is bold and shows the creators fully flexing their musical muscle but it is also bloated and slightly indulgent and would have been much better with a minute or two edited down which would have made it a more concise listen.
Tracks such as opener ‘Vortex’ and ‘Fallen’ reside firmly in the known Carpenter universe with strong melodic lines and throbbing, insistent, keys and drum parts creating a lurching dance feel albeit one that rocks and slithers. But all of this is eclipsed by the run of songs that start with Abyss and close with Night.
These four songs contain moments of pure, Gothic magic as the Prog guitars are reigned in or used sparingly for effect, and the electronics are allowed to shine with Wraith (bubbles and pops), Purgatory (starting plaintive before a fantastic burst of off-kilter drums introduce a swing not heard on any of Carpenter’s previous works) and Night, which closes the album on a suitably unsettling and atmospheric note..a shuffle through the fog.
With the deluxe edition CD version of Lost Themes we get six remixes of album cuts by such diverse artists as Zola Jesus and Dean Hurley, ohGR, Silver Servant, Blank Mass, JG Thirlwell, and Bill Kouligas, each adding a distinct and original interpretation to the original.
Zola Jesus and Dean Hurley’s remix of Night sees the duo use the original’s uneasy feel as a base for a more pop driven song, upping the bass and adding vocals, whilst ohGR turns Wraith into an Industrial, sludgy cut-up stroll.
Silver Servant teases out Vortex for what feels like an eternity (admittedly one you’re happy to exist within forever) and is a perfect example of a producer building tension in a creative and exciting way. JG Thirlwell morphs Abyss into a grand orchestral number which swallows you up and Bill Kouligas’s take on Fallen is one of avant-garde dissonance and neo-classical grandiosity.
However, the true diamond here is Blank Mass’ remix of Fallen which stutters and starts, rolling incessantly with the pace increases slowly but surely racketing up the tension never force once letting go. By the time you reach the last two minutes the pressure is almost, delightfully, unbearable. An absolute classic remix this that deserves to be in every DJ’s collection.
Lost Themes is an album that sometimes seems to not know what it wants to be, however, there are moments on here can easily sit proudly with the maestro’s more acclaimed works and is an album that deserves your attention.
All words by Simon Tucker. More writing by Simon on Louder Than War can be found at his author’s archive.