Album Reviews - Reviews

John Carpenter – Lost Themes


Within seconds of hitting play on director John Carpenter’s first ‘real’ album, pictures start to form in your head. Kurt Russell, chewing on a cigarette, sullenly peeking out with his one eye, stubble so rugged you could grate cheese on it, and a fashion sense that is questionable, at best. There might never be another Snake Plissken movie, but when John Carpenter is behind the synth, suddenly there doesn’t need to be.

In some part due to necessity, Carpenter composed the soundtracks to the vast majority of his films, working quickly and cheaply, utilising basic rock band instrumentation and heavy, primitive synths. Loads of synths. And whilst his fortunes as a director have waned to the point where he seems like a creaky, punky anachronism telling stories that no-one wants to hear, his stock as a composer has steadily risen over the last fifteen years to the point where he’s as lauded for his music as he is for his grungy anti-heroes.

The signature sound of classic scores like HalloweenAssault on Precinct 13, and Escape from New York was heavy, repetitive synth sounds, drum machines, and punctuations with electric guitar. And on Lost Themes, nothing has changed. In fact, thanks to the retro-futuristic sensibility that Carpenter pioneered, the album sounds positively timely, his burping basslines and twangy guitars calling to mind the many other artists who have been influenced by his work in the 70s and 80s. For their last album, black metallers Wolves in the Throne Room ditched the guitars for synths in a remarkably successful homage to Carpenter, whilst Space Dimension Controller’s Welcome to Mikrosector-50 tipped the hat in his direction on more than a few occasions.

So, over the course of its 48 minutes, Lost Themes sustains a tense, and occasionally spooky atmosphere. Track titles are gruff, one word utterances which perfectly sum up the mood of the pieces. ‘Wraith’. ‘Domain’. ‘Purgatory’. You get the idea. They are campy and fun, making absolutely no concessions to the modern era, and sound all the better for it. But whilst they’re fun, they’re not tongue-in-cheek, particularly. To all extents and purposes, Carpenter seems to be saying, “I’m going to give you what you expect, and rather than this being a cop-out, it’ll be more satisfying than you could possibly imagine.” 

So, kind of like when a new Woody Allen movie comes out and we pretend to be excited, but would in fact rather see him bumbling about making gags about sex and relationships, Carpenter gives us faux disco beats and spaghetti western guitar over churning synths. Or when Scott Walker releases a punishingly avant-garde ‘statement’, and we all stroke our chins, but secretly want him to put on sunglasses and start singing about Stalin or something, Carpenter creates atmospheres of eerie dread, full of gothic organs and tinkling bells, like a satanic ritual being performed in front of you, or at least a particularly good game of Dungeons and Dragons. And – consciously or not – it compels the listener to want him to start cranking out low-budget action and horror movies like he used to, where rugged guys and sassy girls kick the shit out of heroes and villains alike, and everybody dies in the end.

Seriously, if John Carpenter could make a movie to match these imaginary themes, he’d rightly be held up as a global treasure. Get on it, man! Steven Rainey

is a writer and broadcaster who has spent his entire life being an elderly version of himself. He believes in the power of True Rock, and discovered heavy metal at the age of 30. He has never married, but has been divorced twice.