Vic’s Review – John Carpenters’s “Lost Themes”
“Start the album up and let the music sink in with the imaginary movies in your mind”
– John Carpenter
Hey gang, just wanted to get this out right away before you all read on. I have no idea how to write a music review. Sure, I can say that I like a tune, a CD or even a live performance but how to get into the vernacular, depth and intricacies of taking a musical work apart and analyzing it, I have no frakking idea. I know when I like a piece of music and I know when I dislike a piece of music. But, I am not incredibly ignorant of all musical terms and provisos. I know what a beat is or what a key is or even an andanto but using all of that in a steady and proper write up is pretty beyond my prowess and expertise (which of, I have still very little).
So, that being said, I recruited the help of two very knowledgable music writers, reviewers and bloggers (and they both did not want to be named or given any credit for their invaluable help). We all had our numerous exchanges which consisted of me asking questions (some of which were pretty dumb, but they were patient) about terms and tempos (It was a bit more complicated than that, but you get the idea) along with what certain musical terms indicate and how they are explored, played and executed. For their incredibly well timed help, I am gratefully and proudly dedicating this post / review of John Carpenters’s “Lost Themes” to them. Thanks Amigos!
Hope you all enjoy!
For over 30 decades, not only the films of re-nowned film-maker John Carpenter, have gained cult status and fringe culture prominence. His music most surely has, as well. Carpenter, now 67, has enjoyed a very prosperous life and career as a film composer also, delivering such iconic soundtracks, for his feature films, like “Halloween,” “Escape from New York” and one of my favorites, “Assault on Precinct 13.”
Carpenters’s later scores like “Ghosts of Mars,” “Vampires” and “Escape from LA” (recorded along with the late and brilliant Shirley Walker) reflected growth and a steady penchant for a more electric guitar heavy presence. A presence that had Carpenter successfully experimenting with a more hard rock vibe to the films. “Ghosts of Mars” (a prime example) had Carpenter working with the insanely gifted guitarist Buckethead and the metal band, Anthrax, even.
Prior collaborators have included the talented Alan Howarth (Halloween III and Christine) and Dave Davies, who impressively co-composed the eerie score to Carpenters’s 1995 remake of “Village of the Damned.” So, Carpenter, is not unfamiliar with working with others and has even occasionally passed the baton to the likes of Ennio Morricone (The Thing), Jack Nitzsche (Starman), his son Cody Carpenter (Pro-Life) and most recently, Mark Killian (The Ward). Wondering whether or not Carpenter decided, picture to picture, that scoring was either a budget, executive or creative decision is pretty moot by now, since we have been given so many really good scores that are immediately recognized, singularly, as Carpenters’s work.
According to Carpenter, between playing video games (he is an admitted huge fan of Borderlands 2 and Assassins Creed) and watching the Lakers, he was toying and messing around frequently on a music recording system bought by his wife, Producer Sandy King of Storm King Productions. Eventually, when approached by Sacred Bones Records to whip up an album, Carpenter rose up to meet the challenge.
Released in early February of this year, “Lost Themes” is a highly welcome piece of musical work from Carpenter. It is moody, atmospheric and precise in tone and reverence. No 2 tracks sound the same and his longers pieces completely envelop and immerse the listener. And, to me, most importantly, it comes with absolutely no burden and distraction of directing a motion picture that can get troublesome, onerous and taxing. Carpenter is free to work solely on the tunes and with the help of his son, Cody and Godson Daniel, he has produced an exciting album that is both nostalgic and authentic.
This is Carpenter’s first solo, non-film soundtrack. But when one starts to listen, you just can’t be blamed for creating images in your mind, whether it be your own original visual imagery or perhaps images from a film directed by JC. “Lost Themes” is easily recognizable as work from Carpenter from “Vortex” alone. “Vortex” is the pleasing, exciting and sentimental first track and it rocks right out of the gate. The tune has a quickly like-able motif by keyboard/piano with that classic Carpenter-esque repetition. Under that, is the familiar driving low frequency beat or pulsation that just provokes images of dread and sometimes even anxiety. The track may find you being afraid of being in a dark room by yourself or looking out the window to see if shapes are lurking about behind trees.
“Lost Themes” though, is not just a nostalgic piece. Where once Carpenter ruled and took advantage of the analog music making world he used back in the day, this new work finds JC using digital technology to press on, grow and excel in composition, to create an ethereal soundscape. “Purgatory” is an insanely eccentric and haunting track that includes pounding pianos and freaky and funky percussions. Here, the drums are strong and steady making it one of the more layered tunes on the album. Carpeneter doesn’t readily stick to the basics and his mininalism is not so apparent on every track, which is not a bad thing.
Keen movie score listeners will immediately be reminded of Giallo styled tunes as well, sometimes even evoking the work of the popular musical group Goblin, whose score for Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, is practically legend. But it is “Obsidian” that really excels. It is practically a film score on to itself. A tune that is desperately in search of a movie to latch itself onto. I will let you all just listen to it and decide for yourselves. With “Lost Themes” Carpenter’s world is idiosyncratically his and his alone. He finds himself in good form, using the approaches that worked during the analog era, in the now complicated digital universe.
He has total tonal command and the tracks flow and and impress. With some, where some percussion and some hokey keys quite don’t gel, we are reminded that Carpenter can get a little stuck with past melodies especially from the 80’s. “Obsidian” though a solid track, suffers a bit with that over the top “shredding” which evokes recent works by JC. But don’t fret over this, gang. The album never loses it’s footing long enough for one to disregard other tracks or the piece as a whole.
“Lost Themes” is s great listen and JC is in rare form here, he delivers a very pleasing trip down memory lane while still incorporating the tried and true methods of implementing mood, dread, visualization, stimulation and atmosphere. “Lost Themes” has it all from JC, the characteristic creepy vibes, the portentous arpeggios (broken chords that go up or down in octvaves) and the sinister sounding synths that are so much his staple. The album provokes a visual experience and is almost a true filmic work.
Much of the album may leave much to the imagination in parts and won’t please everyone to the maximum. “Lost Themes” is a “what is old is new” kind of experience, where JC re-conciles the past, present and future of his musical legacy. It is a bold, refreshing move on his part and the very doleful and melancholy “Night” is the perfect track to end the album as it comes full circle and Carpenter manages to embrace his minimalism to a satisfying conclusion.
Where, “Domain” and Mystery” can be a bit too modern, forced and overworked in places. Still, this is a must have album for fans (and non-fans) of all things John Carpenter and his music. It is a radical and desciplined effort and proves that in this medium at least, Carpenter still has that passion and fire in his belly.
You Can Purchase John Carpenter’s “Lost Themes” from SACRED BONES RECORDS HERE and at other retail online vendors.
1 – Vortex
2 – Obsidian
3 – Fallen
4 – Domain
5 – Mystery
6 – Abyss
7 – Wraith
8 – Purgatory
9 – Night
Below is “Vortex” Hope you enjoy it!