Lately, I’ve been noticing plenty of Hollywood composers daring to release their own studio albums, free from any film projects. John Carpenter has actually been doing this for a few years, and his latest is called “Lost Themes III: Alive After Death”. It released on February 5th through Sacred Bones Records.
John Carpenter is a legend. His name is synonymous with horror for such films as Halloween or The Thing (one of my favorites), of course, but he’s also famous for such films as Escape from New York, Big Trouble in Little China, and Assault on Precinct 13. One thing he’s never quite received as much acclaim for is the fact that he wrote many of the scores for his films. His recent studio album releases have been an attempt of sorts to lay claim to his musical legacy. He has done so with help from Cody Carpenter and Daniel Davies, his partners in crime on this record and also on tour.
You know a soundtrack by John Carpenter, more than likely. His eerie, keyboard-soaked scores have always been terrifying, unnerving, and atmospheric, to say the least. In some ways, along with the likes of Tangerine Dream and Vangelis, I see Carpenter’s compositions as the foundation for film scores throughout the 70s, 80s, and beyond. On this particular album, he offers us music that is similar to his soundtracks, only these songs don’t need a screen image to complete their emotional impact. No, this, as Carpenter has stated, is music for the films in your own head. I love that.
“Lost Themes III” is certainly a colorful, haunted affair. The songs feel cinematic and foreboding, like entering a different world and a new existence. Yet, these songs tell a story on their own merit, not needing nostalgia from the past to drive my interest. The music is mostly electronic in nature, though there are some rocking moments with wonderful guitar solos, and keyboards lead the way on almost every track. It’s a beautiful mix, one that plants melodies in my mind that I recall over and over, to the point where this record already feels nostalgic to some degree. The melodies are comforting, even if they are also spooky.
The album has 10 songs, and it lasts about 40 minutes. That is a perfect length for this offering, as it swims by in a sea of dark moments and hopeful climaxes, but never overstays its welcome. Carpenter released “Alive After Death” and “The Dead Walk” as the primary singles, and both of those songs are a joy to hear. The former is instantly gratifying, and it offers layers and layers of well-written melody, not to mention some great guitars near the end. The latter has a bit more grit in its bloodstream, and I love the distorted atmosphere it creates.
Some other favorites are “Weeping Ghost”, “Dead Eyes”, and “Skeleton”. “Weeping Ghost” has a low key, yet highly searing primary loop that feels dark and full of dread, but the second half of the track has one of my favorite melodies. It stays in my head constantly. “Dead Eyes” is an atmospheric track, one that lacks the drive of the songs mentioned thus far, but it pines so well and feels spaced out mentally. “Skeleton” relies on guitar more than most tracks, so it feels steely and bony in that sense. I love the interplay between the guitar and gorgeous keys that hit at the perfect times to fill spaces that need an extra touch of melody. So good.
John Carpenter has always been a master in my mind, but his mission to be known for his music has been successful thus far, as least as far as quality is concerned. Honestly, this album makes me want to go listen through all of his famous scores again, yet I can’t stop playing this record itself. So, while it has that nostalgic kick to it, the album also stands on its own two feet, and I have been listening to it almost every day for weeks, sometimes more than once. I suppose that says more than I could ever write.
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John Carpenter’s music for Halloween is some of the best horror film music ever written, up there with Bernard Herrmann’s score for Psycho. Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best!