As anyone with a even passing interest in cinema will know, John Carpenter made some of the most highly regarded, and enjoyed movies of the late ’70s and early ’80s. His run of classics starts with Assault On Precinct 13 and Halloween and then runs into the likes of The Fog, The Thing, Big Trouble In Little China and Escape From New York. Not only did he write many of these movies, he wrote the scores as well.
As an all-rounder, Carpenter has few contemporaries; there aren’t too many with the same drive and idiosyncrasies. His distinctive and unique style is instantly recognisable, and that’s the case on Lost Themes II too; within the first few bars of many of the compositions on this album, it’s immediately obvious who wrote them.
What is interesting is that these songs were not written with a specific scene or film to soundtrack. In that regard, Carpenter pretty much had a blank slate for his album, but in keeping with his first collection, these are tunes in search of a movie. Of course, everyone likes a sequel (especially Carpenter, who penned a fair few of the Halloween franchise), but unlike most filmic second attempts, this is not an album that leads to disappointment.
With the assistance of his son Cody and stepson Daniel Davies, Carpenter has set about doing what he does best. Such is the importance of his music to his movies, that hearing these pieces instantly creates a scene or a set of characters in the mind. In terms of sound and tone, everything is very much as you might expect. Carpenter’s synths and bass tones can still be traced back to those early films. White Pulse for example not only borrows from Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells (and in doing so, references The Exorcist) but throws back to Carpenter’s own sparse, but oh-so-effective score for Halloween too. At the end, things get a little more muscular and throbbing, but it’s those early skeletal keyboard parts that really hit home.
This is an album that is perhaps a little more forceful and aggressive than its predecessor (in classic sequel style) but the instrumentation remains rooted in the period that brought forth those classic Carpenter films. The electric guitar parts of Angel’s Asylum for example could have come straight from the prog meanderings of War Of The Worlds. One of the highlights, Dark Blues, is brooding and menacing, but rather than use a thickened guitar tone or a distortion more befitting 2016, Carpenter favours a waspish sound more at home on the metal albums of 1984. Perhaps it’s a case of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” though, because it’s at home in a Carpenter piece, and any attempt to try and adapt his sound might well have sounded jarring.
The danger is, of course, that the album might be interpreted as an exercise in nostalgia, or that those unfamiliar with John Carpenter’s work would find it a fairly impenetrable piece of work. Whilst the sounds are from a different age, Lost Themes II does little in the way of dwelling on the past it merely offers an alternative reality where dystopian landscapes are described by pulsing bass lines and creeping synth lines (Persia Rising) and moments of beauty and wonder are soundtracked by bubbling synth lines, choral sections and joyous cadences.
Hofner Dawn might well nod in the direction of Miami Vice, but according to Carpenter’s score, they’ve been relocated to the Arctic wastes and may or may not be host to a creature from outer space. Even the homage to Bela Lugosi shifts the universe slightly and finds him, not as an Ed Wood cast member or a Dracula overshadowed by Christopher Lee, but instead he’s made his way into Twin Peaks and is leading an army in an assault on Bob (all of whom, are marching to a synth score, naturally).
Those not familiar with John Carpenter’s work may find his approach a little baffling, dated, and over the course of an entire album, somewhat monotonous. But they’d have never got it anyway.