John Carpenter – director of classic 70’s and 80’s classics Halloween, The Thing, and Escape From New York – has said several times that he ended up creating simplistic synth scores for many of his films because he couldn’t find the money or time to get someone else to do them.
When it came to his new album, Lost Themes, however, he had all the time in the world. Not to mention much better equipment to work with than he did over 30 years ago too.
When you consider that fact, it wouldn’t be heresy to suggest Lost Themes could have been a disaster, stuffed full of overcooked, overcomplicated tracks that fail to replicate the enigmatic, basic beats of Carpenter’s original work.
Fortunately, although there’s much more sophistication here than you might expect, the album still feels right. This is Carpenter through and through, and all of the music on show would easily blend into one of his movies if he was still making them today. Goddamn you retirement.
The album gets off to a promising start, with Vortex – which you can listen to on the album’s official site here – serenading listeners with a familiar low hum that eventually leads into a simple, but wholly Carpenter-esque piano tune.
Now, for an older Carpenter track that would’ve been enough, but with time now on his side the filmmaker has imbued his work with more complexity, laying in electronic beats until the piano has been completely washed away.
The next track, Obsidian, is just as accomplished, inviting us back into Carpenters world with distant, dreamy chords before launching into an enthusiastic and high tempo beat. It’s an erratic track that’s constantly shifting and changing, which, of course, only adds to its familiar ghostly feel.
Fallen is much more of a driving force, and feels like a track for a dark futuristic thriller – Escape From Space Station 13 perhaps. Utilizing isolated electronic chords with sudden drawn out notes, it concocts something that makes you seem distant and detached from reality, a feeling Wraith that appears later on in the album.
It’s not all old school Carpenter though, with Abyss merging melancholia and darkness to create an intoxicating combination that should please fans of wider electronic music as well as Carpenter devotees.
Using a range of echoing notes throughout, Domain hits upon another element repeated throughout Lost Themes: unpredictability. It’s an album that’s designed to keep listeners on their toes, and – similar to the original Halloween soundtrack, and the film itself – you never know where the next shock is going to come from.
It’s a trait that ends up even increasing the impact of quieter tracks like Mystery and Abyss, forcing listeners to wrangle with their own expectations. Indeed, Lost Themes is a compelling listen because it asks you to think as well as feel.
Thankfully, it also never feels like a lazy and opportunistic cash grab. It’s clear the album is a labour of love that comes from the heart – even if it’s a heart with a slightly darker edge than most.
Simply put: if you’re a fan of the growing synthwave movement, this is an album you can’t afford to miss. It might not resonate with everyone, but what it does do is hark back to an arguably better age, while perhaps even improving upon it.
Oh, and John, if you’re reading this, please get back behind the camera one last time. I beg of you.