If you’re already familiar with the work of John Carpenter (he of directing Halloween, The Thing and They Live fame) you’ll already be familiar with his outstanding abilities as a composer.
The frantic, tension building piano melody of Halloween. The throbbing electro pulse of Assault on Precinct 13 (which has fittingly been sampled by Afrika Bambaataa, Bomb the Bass and Tricky over the years). The sheer trouser-ruining spookiness of The Fog soundtrack. All of these themes are the expert handiwork of Carpenter himself and have become just as iconic as the films they score.
The only thing that might come as a surprise is that the 67 year-old director has taken this long to release a debut album.
Lost Themes isn’t, as you may expect, a collection of unused scores from previous films, but a brand new collection of instrumentals recently recorded with his son Cody Carpenter, himself an accomplished prog musician recording under the name Ludrium. Each track is heavily atmospheric, occasionally very danceable but always like the genuine score to a movie John Carpenter hasn’t got around to making yet.
Opening track ‘Vortex’ is a pumping, synth-heavy beast that wouldn’t sound out of place in any of today’s menacing homages to the 80s. But what it adds to the likes of Kavinsky or Chromatics’ work on the Drive soundtrack is a meatier sense of purpose. There’s a focused rhythmic pace and a satisfying structure here that’s missing from its peers.
At the proggier end of the scale is the eight minute long ‘Obsidian’, which even despite its running-time is so full of brilliant touches and transitions it never outstays its welcome. The highlights are driven by some killer electric guitar licks, which might sound cheesy anywhere else, but in the context of a super cool yet never seen 80s thriller they are completely breathtaking.
‘Domain’ is a joyous celebration of its own roots in the ghost-ride amusement end of funfair horror, but then it takes an unexpected rollercoaster trip through some other unknown hell and it becomes something else entirely. ‘Mystery’ wouldn’t sound out of place on an episode of Garth Marenghi’s Dark Place, which is most definitely a compliment, and ‘Night’ is a fitting end to an album so focused on creating psychic dread through manufactured soundscapes that it matches Boards Of Canada’s last feel bad hit of the summer for chilling nihilism.
One of Carpenter’s strengths as a film composer is in his ability to create music that not only wrings the maximum amount of tension from his own horrific creations but also that work as surprisingly captivating dance music. This is even more apparent on Lost Themes, especially within the excellent collection of remixes to be found on the deluxe edition of the album (well worth spending the extra few quid for). Blanck Mass’s work on ‘Fallen’ is the equal to his alter ego’s exhilarating work in Fuck Buttons, ‘Night’ gives Zola Jesus the perfect menacing backing to her vocals and creates a gothic masterpiece, meanwhile ohGr (formed by Skinny Puppy’s Nivek Ogre) reworks ‘Wraith’ as a beautiful piece of moving glitchpop.
As one of those idiots who spends a fortune on horror movie LPs from the likes of Death Waltz, Mondo and Waxwork, I’ve become fully brainwashed into spending my time at home listening to obscure, weird and often atonal horror movie soundtracks, much to my wife’s constant bewilderment (“you could be listening to Junior Senior instead”) but Carpenter has created something so much more in Lost Themes. Part incredible movie score, part atmospheric dance album, and for any budding horror maestros out there, an invaluable source of inspiration. 5/5