John Carpenter’s Lost Themes Album Review (2015)

Master of Horror, John Carpenter, presents “Lost Themes,” an original sonic odyssey into films made only in the imagination.

At 67 years old, legendary horror film director and ex-Kentuckian, John Carpenter, has released his first original solo album. Well, his first non-film score album anyway. Sacred Bones Records (www.sacredbonesrecords.com) has released “Lost Themes” on CD and special edition vinyl and in old school “record” tradition, even the CD case lists the nine tracks as separated on Side A and Side B.

Fans of Carpenter’s mesmerizing, pulsating synthesizer scores from films like “Halloween,” “The Fog,” “Assault on Precinct 13,” “Escape from New York,” “They Live” and “Prince of Darkness” are in for a very special treat. “Lost Themes” recalls fleeting moments from some of those scores, occasional familiar effects and beats, but it’s also very much its own animal.

It’s something old, something new, something retro and somehow futuristic at the same time, sort of like Walt Disney’s vision of Tomorrowland at the Magic Kingdom.

Raised in Bowling Green, KY where his father was head of the music department at Western Kentucky University, Carpenter was a student of music long before he left Kentucky to attend USC film school in Los Angeles. When he made his first low budget, independent films, “Dark Star,” Assault on Precinct 13” and “Halloween,” his skills as a musician came in handy. The budgets were so low, he would compose the film scores himself on a synthesizer to save the expense of having to hire a composer and an orchestra.

His scores quickly became so iconic that even when he would hire someone else to score his movie, like he did when he hired one of the greatest film composers of all time, Ennio Morricone, to score “The Thing,” Morricone would ultimately turn in a soundtrack that sounded pretty much like a John Carpenter score!

Carpenter’s films are just meant to sound a certain way.

In the past, Carpenter has humbly compared his job as a film composer to a carpet layer who comes in after the home is built and lays down the carpet which makes the house look nice and brings it all together. While it might be true that Carpenter’s often repetitive synthetic rhythms are musically simplistic tools built to add mood and tone to his filmic images, I think most of his fans will agree that his scores amount to much more than just so much shag interior.

There’s something in Carpenters style that just exudes COOL.

For “Lost Themes,” Carpenter has kept the music in the family, working with his son, Cody, and his godson, Daniel Davies, to create a pulsating soundscape that is at times sinister and at other times exhilarating.

In the included liner notes Carpenter says, “Lost Themes was all about having fun. It can be both great and bad to score over images, which is what I’m used to. Here there were no pressures. No actors asking me what they’re supposed to do. No crew waiting. No cutting room to go to. No release pending. It’s just fun.”

“Lost Themes” opens with the majestically cool, “Vortex,” which in many ways recalls both the shadowy street violence of “Assault on Precinct 13” and the dystopian future nightmare depicted in “Escape from New York.”

The next track, “Obsidian,” also conjures images of dark sci-fi noir-scapes and the discovery of lost Lovecraftian cities, but segues into something that feels like New Age romanticism. As with most of the tracks included, if you don’t like the first couple of minutes, stick around because there will likely be several tempo and mood changes before the end.

In the next couple of tracks, “Fallen” and “Domain,” you begin to hear Carpenter’s Rock n Roll influences come to the surface. In the mid 1970’s, Carpenter formed his own rock band, The Coupe de Villes, and some of his scores, like “Escape from LA” and “Ghosts of Mars,” have incorporated guitar driven tracks laid down by rockers like Anthrax, Steve Vai and Buckethead.

Mystery” and “Abyss” might, at points, remind listeners of both Tubular Bells (“The Exorcist”) and Goblin’s score for “Susperia,” which I believe Carpenter himself approximated in his score for “The Fog.”

The next two tracks, “Wraith” and “Purgatory,” are probably my least favorite tracks on the album. It’s only at this point do things start to blur together, at least to my ears, but thankfully Carpenter has saved one of his best tracks, “Night,” for the album’s closer.

Night” is pure, classic Carpenter. Rhythmic, methodical and mysterious, it’s the perfect bookend for “Vortex.”

John Carpenter’sLost Tracks” is the perfect soundtrack for night driving. Pop this synth odyssey into your car CD player for cruising down rain slicked streets through neon cities of both the real and the imagined. Get your copy now at www.sacredbonesrecords.com.

The Phantom of The Ville

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