Review: John Carpenter – Lost Themes II

As a film director, John Carpenter made very few sequels. Granted, there was Escape From L.A., which relocated Escape From New York’s anti-hero Snake Plissken to a slightly different dystopian metropolis, but Carpenter ceded the reins and eventually the rights to later instalments of the Halloween franchise while other sequel ideas were resisted, abandoned or left to the hands of other directors.

Lost Themes II, then, is a rare Carpenter sequel, albeit not to any film. It follows his debut studio album from 2015 which deviated from Carpenter’s prior soundtrack work because its standalone compositions had no movie to accompany, even if they often felt like they craved one. ‘Vortex’, for example, might have persuaded you that you were being pursued by an unstoppable, irredeemable serial killer. ‘Obsidian’ probably made you want to run around shooting people while wearing little more than a vest and a badass eye-patch. And no doubt ‘Night’ convinced you that everybody you know is secretly possessed by a sadistic shape-shifting alien vampire ghost from Hell.

By no means a radical sonic departure, Lost Themes II initially threatens to offer more of the same. Its opening track and lead single, ‘Distant Dream’ could have fitted seamlessly onto the first Lost Themes record and throughout this second collection the signature Carpenter tropes are all present and correct; minor-chord synth throbs and more twinkly keyboard melodies, minimalist, propulsive drum patterns and abstract soundscapes combining to produce an atmosphere of purgatorial eeriness.

Even so, this second chapter is a subtly different beast to its predecessor. On that earlier record, Carpenter and his collaborators, his son Cody and godson Daniel Davies, worked by sharing files over the internet. This time the group wrote and recorded the music together in the same room under limited time constraints. Carpenter has admitted that the three “had a blast” while making this album and that communal gaiety comes through on the grooves. As well as exhibiting a greater range of noises and instruments and capturing more of a “real band” feel, the general mood is a little lighter and more playful than before.

There are still spooky moments, of course. You can understand why Carpenter thought it apt to christen his theatrical phantom-of-the-organ piece after the Hungarian horror-film acting legend Bela Lugosi, while ‘White Pulse’ begins by evoking both Carpenter’s classic Halloween theme and Mike Oldfield’s Exorcist-accompanying Tubular Bells refrain before suddenly swerving off into industrial-goth territory. The latter track does conclude with a more optimistic-sounding keyboard passage and other tracks even flirt with being outright upbeat. ‘Angel’s Asylum’ is unexpectedly bouncy and funky, best suited, if it was on a film soundtrack, to being played as the credits roll after the hero has triumphed over the malevolent robo-martian-zombie baddies. Even more surprising is its outro; a soothingly trad-folky acoustic guitar section, almost John Williams-ish in its serenity. Both this track and its following number, ‘Hofner Dawn’, are furnished with a warm harpsichord-replicating synthesiser sound, more reminiscent of a baroque ballroom scene than any 1980s slasher flick. But Lost Themes II’s biggest bombshell comes in the form of ‘Dark Blues’, a track laden with thick, fuzzy guitar chords and, eventually, the kind of psych-rock lead noodling that would perk up the ears of Eddie Hazel from Parliament/Funkadelic.

Like Carpenter’s Escape From… films, Lost Themes II entertains in a fun rather than scary way, and there’s nothing wrong with that. After experiencing the sly developments that Carpenter has introduced this time round, it’ll be fascinating to see where he chooses to take his music on Lost Themes’ “threequel”, assuming that’s what the future has in store. It might even turn out to be as strange and unusual a project as the movie Halloween III: Season Of The Witch. What manner of conceptual insanity was going on there?

Written by JR Moores