I’ve loved John Carpenter’s music (and movies) for as long as I’ve loved anything to do with cinema. Before watching my first Carpenter film, Escape From New York, I had it in mind that music in film had to be orchestral and sound classical in it’s composition; this came from spending most of my childhood watching Indiana Jones, ET, The Goonies et al. I thought film music was all about the string section, the brass and the tuned percussion. But then I heard the Escape From New York theme and everything changed.
Carpenter proved that it doesn’t matter what instrumentation you have access to (although he did have the best synth sounds ever to play with), it was really all about the theme. And boy can Carpenter write a theme! Every movie he has scored has a plethora of memorable cues, from Big Trouble in Little China to Halloween and all in between, Carpenter is a true maestro of the memorable.
So when Carpenter released Lost Themes in 2014 I was of course beyond giddy, and my giddiness was rewarded ten-fold by an album which I have gone back to again and again over the last 18 months.
So we come to 2016, and Carpenter is back with Lost Themes II, which delivers more tracks and more new synth gorgeousness; providing our imaginations with musical imagery and makes us ponder on the kind of Carpenter movies they would provide the perfect soundtrack to.
Somehow it’s even better than the first Lost Themes. Where 2014’s album provided great moments of atmosphere and evoked all the signature Carpenter classic scores, this new work delivers a multitude of original and instantly iconic themes. The production has stepped up too and the further collaboration with other artists only serves to develop the sound into places that feel fresh as well as authentic.
As has been mentioned by Carpenter’s label Sacred Bones Records:
The follow-up album brings quite a few noticeable changes to the process, which result in an even more fluid and thematic record. Lost Themes’ cowriters and musicians Cody Carpenter (John’s son) and Daniel Davies (John’s godson) both returned. Unlike their first album, when they often worked over the internet exchanging themes over the course of several years, this time all three brought in sketches and worked together in the same city. The result was a more focused effort, one that was completed on a compressed schedule — not unlike Carpenter’s classic, notoriously low-budget early films. The musical world of Lost Themes II is also a wider one than that of its predecessor; more electric and acoustic guitar help flesh out the songs, still driven by Carpenter’s trademark minimal synth. Lost Themes II delivers eleven compelling new tracks with which fans can continue to score the movies in their minds.
The above videos for Distant Dream and Angel’s Asylum represent two of the very best tracks on the album. Distant Dream harks back to the Lords of Death themes from Big Trouble In Little China, with the pulsing bass runs that are so quintessential 80s, and Angel’s Asylum is peppered with trademark Carpenter unpredictable chord movements and a great rock rhythm, finishing with a truly wondrous acoustic guitar epilogue that feels like watching a digital sunset.
My personal favourite is the brilliantly titled Windy Death, which uses a simple drum beat to effectively draw the listener into thinking the song will follow one rhythm, then opens up into a euphoric straight beat coupled with arpeggiating synths and beautiful melody that is nothing short of anthemic.
But to choose favourites is a disservice to the album, because it’s as close as an album can come to being flawless, and with the news that Carpenter will be touring the work extensively throughout the year, makes 2016 a great year to love the Horror Master.