John Carpenter’s Lost Themes
Sacred Bones Records – 2015
To be honest with you, the opening track “Vortex” gave me goose-bumps because it’s the most “John Carpenter” sounding piece I’ve heard since the late 80s. It’s got this super cool groove that’s a cross between Escape From New York and Big Trouble in Little China. After some screechy sounds, a simple piano comes in only to be interrupted by a dark syncopated keyboard that throbs along with a stomping drum. It’s trademark Carpenter and easily one of the best tracks of his long and distinguished career as a composer.
In Carpenter’s own words, Lost Themes is a soundtrack for imaginary movies. It runs the gamut of different moods and Carpenter hopes will inspire people to visualize stories within their heads and maybe even filmmakers for their work.
“Obsidian” has interesting ebb & flow, sounding like a video game gone haywire and then slows down in way that made me think of Hans Zimmer scoring a John Woo movie. At the five-minute mark, the keyboard goes into Rick Wakeman-like mode, reminiscent to what the former Yes Keyboardist achieved in the movie The Burning.
In the linear notes, John Carpenter says “Lost Themes was all about having fun.” You can certainly hear pleasure on this album as the director/composer not only captures some of his signature sound but veers off into new directions. He gets musical assistance from his son Cody Carpenter and Godson Daniel Davies. Carpenter says, “the goal was to make his music more complete and fuller because they had unlimited tracks. “
There’s a grim finality to “Fallen.” It definitely feels like someone has been defeated and beat down. I like how a driving keyboard picks up the pace just two and a half minutes in and how the electric guitar gives the tune a boost of power.
There is an aura of an area being ruled in “Domain.” The quicker guitar/keyboard melody that ventures in not only gives the track energy but a sense of humor as well. The quick played keyboard riff that is played a third of the way is amusing. There is some real creative keyboard work that is geared for the fantastic world of fantasy rather than horror. Carpenter is getting a chance to explore new musical worlds.
There’s definitely something shrouded in “Mystery” that is not easy to figure out, but worth seeking the answer to. I like the musical time change 2-minutes and 40-seconds in, when the tune gets darker and more serious. The distorted electric guitar embellishes it further along with the screaming vibrato keyboard.
A dark, harmonious succession of notes leads you down into “Abyss.” A keyboard pattern is complimented by the percussion. It’s really cool hearing how the musicians grab a hold of the bouncing rhythm mid-way through and then ride it with the instrumentation that follows.
“Wraith” has a real engrossing beginning with what sounds kind of like calypso drums leading into hard-charging guitar. In some ways this instrumentation makes me think of Tangerine Dream, whom I’ve always loved. I know Carpenter is a fan of their work, especially the William Friedkin movie Sorcerer, so this wouldn’t be a far-fetched comparison.
It sounds as though “Purgatory” isn’t the happiest place to be with the sullen music representing this cue. The steel guitar is reminiscent of what John Carpenter did with his Vampires score.
The really high pitched keyboard notes towards the end reminded me of something you’d hear on the Fresh Aire series from Mannheim Steamroller.
“Night” features a dark, funky approach that isn’t scary but actively cool. There’s a momentum that keeps rolling forward, pushing you through darkness towards the dawn.
The last six tracks are remixes of the five of the tracks listed above.
Zola Jesus (Nika Roza) contributes her earthy vocals to “Night” (Zola Jesus and Dean Hurley Remix) and Dean Hurley gives the tune a touch of his David Lynch-like sensibility. There are some mad beats in “Wraith” (ohGr Remix).
Silent Servant (Juan Mendez) keeps his manipulation of “Vortex” (Silent Servant Remix) within the musical pocket John Carpenter had etched prior on this album.
(Blanck Mass Remix) of “Fallen” treads into trip-hop territory with cymbals and heavy beats leading the way.
My favorite remix track is “Abyss” (JG Thirlwell Remix) because the Australian Producer/Composer (also known as Clint Ruin, Frank Want among others) augments the Carpenter music in a way that it sounds like John Carpenter. I could easily hear this rendition in Escape From New York or Escape From LA. Sure it’s got beats and a mix of dance floor ingredients, but it stays the most true to the source.
The last track “Fallen” (Bill Kouligas Remix) is the most esoteric and least listenable of the lot because it’s just a jumble of all sorts of sounds spun around in an audio blender.
You don’t have to be a fan of John Carpenter’s movies to appreciate purchasing his first solo album. With all of the listeners of electronic music, techno, trip-hop, chill out, ambient, rock-n-roll and of course film scores, there is a world of people Lost Themes would appeal to. Some of the tunes will get you from the get go, while others I’m certain will grow on you.
There isn’t another film director alive that does what John Carpenter does as a composer. We’ve got to stand up and celebrate the man’s considerable talent. I’ve read that John Carpenter would be willing to take this music on the road with his son Cody and Daniel Davies if there was a demand. I’m here to say I’d be there in a moment and I know for a fact there a legion of John Carpenter supporters who would join me.
Lost Themes is a special occasion for the listening world that should be enjoyed with vigor.