After decades of being an infamous director of horror and science fiction, with cult-classics including The Thing, Halloween and Escape From New York, John Carpenter has decided to focus less on cinematography and more on sounds, and though this may seem surprising, it should be known that Carpenter is not only a producer and director of films but has also composed the music for most of his canon. So, who better than the legend himself to present a soundtrack album of non-soundtrack material?
In spite of the somewhat misleading title, Lost Themes does not contain unused scores from previous films that have been rediscovered, instead it is a collection of nine new instrumental pieces by Carpenter in collaboration with his son Cody and godson, Daniel Davies. The album begins with ‘Vortex’, and from the get-go, Carpenter’s trademark style is instantly recognisable with filtered sequencer percussion, atmospheric piano, and an inexorable metronome pulse, creating an absorbing and gripping sense of sombreness.
The remaining eight tracks continue in a similar fashion, with each score creating a chance for the listener to envisage the generic expectations or the opening montage from a Carpenter film. You know the type, where the main character shuffles through the fog to eventually turn around and face the camera with a longing gaze. Approaching the album in this imaginative way helps as the listener may run the risk of feeling something is absent without the visual element, though this may simply be down to the fact that it is nearly impossible to hear the music within Lost Themes without ultimately visualising a scene from one his films. Be that as it may, the tracks all surprise with novel ideas and out-of-the-blue twists, and this is established particularly well with the last four tracks.
The intro to ‘Abyss’, for example, starts off redolent of Halloween with its synth-washed, atmospheric sound; slowly moving and then suddenly accelerating hard into a fast-paced, bass laden assault flourished with soft electronic percussion. ‘Wraith’ bubbles and cracks with the use of heavy guitars and a pulsing backdrop ending with a fantastic guitar solo. ‘Purgatory’ has a gloomy feel to it, opening with soft classical strings and doleful piano chimes that eventually give way to a broken drum beat, creating a doom-impending sound, evocative of his work on ‘Vampires’. The album closes with ‘Night’ to round things off in style with a pulsating synthesised bass-line and menacing guitar chords partnered by orchestral hits. Savage, in short.
The overarching ethos here seems to be unruly organs merged with progressive percussions, mildly vicious stomping rhythms mixed with warm electronic massages, jazzy rock meets space pop, basically. Lost Themes contains a glorious formula that works perfectly for those in search of a nostalgic trip with modern production. Plus, it doesn’t sacrifice any of the goodness that got you to like any of John Carpenter’s original scores in the first place.