If you have even a passing interest in horror movies, Kurt Russell or the ‘80s in general then you’ve heard the name John Carpenter.
The director of Halloween, Christine and Big Trouble in Little China (plus the equally Russell-tastic Escape from New York and Escape from L.A.), Carpenter is widely recognised not only for his work behind the camera but for his inventive work in crafting the scores for many of his films, including those mentioned above.
A master when it comes to setting the tone of his films, particularly horrors, Carpenter could easily have chosen to sit back and be known as the writer of the Halloween theme tune, but he’s continued to work in the field into his late 60s, albeit on slightly less well known projects.
While film scores traditionally see the composer write for a specific scene, Carpenter’s latest album, Lost Themes is a bit of an oddity. Written with his son Cody Carpenter and godson Daniel Davies, the record was created over the course of two years in the breaks between playing video games, acting as a creative outlet without the pressures of tight deadlines and film studio requirements.
As you might expect, the album’s heavy on synthesisers, simple distorted guitars and thumping bass, all backed up by atmospheric strings (again, provided by synthesisers). The opening track, ‘Vortex’, initially has a resemblance to Nine Inch Nails’ Still version of ‘The Day The World Went Away’ but quickly transitions into more Carpenter-esque tones.
Listening to the nine tracks on offer it’s difficult not to picture what each song could provide the soundtrack to, and at the expense of sounding repetitive, at least a couple of them involve a particular eyepatch wearing action hero.
There are quite a few surprises here too, take the fourth track, ‘Domain’ as an example. Starting with pianos and choir-like synthesisers before leading into gothic pipe organs backed by a thudding bass drum it’s everything you’d expect from somebody so closely associated with horror, but then what’s either a heavily distorted guitar or an aggressive synth comes in, taking things in a decidedly more dance-oriented direction.
Speaking of dance, the album’s second half sees the aforementioned nine original tracks joined by an additional six remixes, with each dragging the songs slightly more in the direction of the dancefloor.
The first, a remix of ‘Night’ the brooding final track of the album proper, sees singer-songwriter Zola Jesus add vocals to mix, making the track for more accessible without removing any of its menacing qualities. This is followed by a remix of album track ‘Wraith’ by ohGr, otherwise known as Nivek Ogre and the man behind industrial fan-favourites Skinny Puppy, again, the song retains its essence but is given a somewhat more aggressive makeover.
For most listeners Lost Themes will be something that they’ve sought out, and if you fall into this camp then expect for your expectations to be met. For those new to John Carpenter then this might be a slightly harder record to get your head into. While some may persevere and find that they can’t stop finding new sounds, textures and nuances, others may be put off by the lack of hooks and catchy choruses.
With his first solo album, John Carpenter has created something unique, a time capsule of his past and present influences. Like all unique objects, Lost Themes isn’t without its drawbacks, but it’s the imperfections that make this album what it is.