AUDIO REVIEW: JOHN CARPENTER’S LOST THEMES / MUSIC: JOHN CARPENTER / LABEL: SACRED BONES / RELEASE DATE: FEBRUARY 3RD
Listening to John Carpenter's Lost Themes, you can't help but have myriad scenes rush across your vision. It's not coincidental that the label releasing this LP, Sacred Bones, previewed the first track, Vortex, over random scenes from Carpenter's classic films like Assault on Precinct 13, Halloween, and others. The overall experience of listening to Lost Themes is that it makes a simple stroll home from the pub feel like you're walking the streets of Haddonfield while The Shape lurks somewhere just beyond the periphery of your vision.
That first cut, Vortex, could've been released as a 12-inch single and fans such as ourselves would've gone mad, fist-fighting one another in the shops and sniping one another on eBay to get a copy. It's astonishing, and despite its initial simplicity, repeated listens reveal so much more.
There's something about the way Carpenter uses simple chords and takes something that could've easily been a monotonic exercise, and opens it way up. Analogue piano and guitar will meld with one another, as they each play the same chord, while the synthesizers pan back and forth between the right and left channels, resulting in a track which absolutely begs to be heard through headphones, so you can hear each and every little flourish.
Obsidian has a drumbeat – something unusual for Carpenter, who very rarely works in something so obviously martial in his music. However, the man once again finds a way to do something interesting, and rather than be on a drum kit, it sounds like it's just the sticks being hit very hard against a tile floor. It's an intriguing way to approach things, and allows for a wider sonic pallet than one would've expected.
The strangest aspect of listening to Lost Themes is also the most pleasing. The synth work will occasionally move out of the moody, atmospheric work, into something a bit more action-oriented. It's especially notable on a cut like Domain, wherein everything suddenly switches from the minor chords in which Carpenter has been working for the past twenty minutes. You're presented with major stabs, bumping the mood up from downbeat to positively martial.
It has the potential to take a swing into cheese, but you're hit with another switch-up as the tempo and instrumentation change again into an insistent rhythmic pulse that brushes up against the edge of chiptune. It's absolutely fascinating to see exactly how far-ranging Carpenter can be, yet still remain resolutely himself.
The track titles are all pretty much indicative of what you're going to get: Mystery has a certain “walking through the house” vibe to it. Abyss could easily be deep underwater or in the vast reaches of outer space, punctuated as it is with Sputnik-like beeps and blips. And, of course, album-closers Night has deeply-resonant bass punctuating synth work that sounds like it's pure 1980s, creating a pure slasher vibe.
Everything on John Carpenter's Lost Themes evokes something you've heard before from the horror master, be it the spare themes of Assault on Precinct 13 or the guitar-streaked action horror of Vampires, but it's completely its own creature. It might have taken decades for Carpenter to release an album of original material, but it's easily worth the wait.
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