I’m not sure what you’d call this, a second wind? Third wind? Dust in the wind? Whatever wind it is, it’s a mighty one for John Carpenter. In a few print interviews I’ve read with Carpenter over the last few years he’s sounded a little on the bitter side regarding films. He was to the point of making movies for a paycheck(nothing wrong with that…gotta pay the rent somehow), just going through the motions so he could sustain himself for another couple of years until something else lackluster came along that he could force himself to make. If John Carpenter were a longtime hack filmmaker then I’d say whatever, but Carpenter is not a hack filmmaker. He had a visual style that was unlike anyone working the horror genre. He could create mood and tension as good as Hitchcock. His films were very much his own, whether he penned them or not. So to hear someone as iconic as Carpenter disenchanted with the art of filmmaking was kind of disheartening. But then early last year John Carpenter put out the album Lost Themes, a collection of music he’d created over the years but never used. It was an astounding collection of heavy synth and electronic music, with bits of rock thrown in. He seemed rejuvenated artistically and creatively. I mean, it was no surprise the album was great. His films were distinctive not only for their visual style, but for their scores which Carpenter penned, both on his own and with Alan Howarth.
Now, just a little over a year since Lost Themes was released Carpenter has released Lost Themes II(through Sacred Bones once again). Second time around Carpenter uses subtlety in his compositions, and with the help of his son in the studio fashions a sophomore record that feels like the master at work once again.
Musically Lost Themes II seems to mine an array of moods and vibes, but with more of a full band feel this time around. “Distant Dream” jumps into the darker vibes of Lost Themes, but feeling less constricted; looser and more rock and roll. Carpenter sounds more like Zombi than Tangerine Dream on this opening track. “White Pulse” sounds like “Tubular Bells”, but with a more baroque approach to melody, as the track melts into a very Bach-meets-Walter Rizzati thing. Then the song falls into a heavy rhythm and gothic synths, ala Sinoia Caves. “Persia Rising” could’ve been some great theme to some unrealized Carpenter feature. It pulsates and bounces beautifully, very much ready for its cinematic close up.
There’s much less of the forced rock bravado this time around then on Lost Themes. When there is a distorted guitar solo or big drums they feel more natural this time around. But really, the majority of Lost Themes II is melancholy tracks like “Hofner Down”, or “Windy Death” with its Vangelis feel. The gothic “Bela Lugosi” towers over us with doom-laden walls of synth. You can almost see that coffin opening in the distance and Lugosi rising from it. “Dark Blues” is more rock than synth-themed scores, but it still brings the goods. “Virtual Survivor” is reminiscent of Carpenter’s own Escape From New York soundtrack, with updated guitar gruff. Album closer “Utopian Facade” sounds like Nightsatan a bit, but in a more restrained and refined way. It’s like laser metal meets Vangelis.
Am I disappointed that one of my favorite filmmakers is no longer making films? Yes. But the fact he’s found a new artistic outlet in putting out albums of original music makes that disappointment much less painful. Lost Themes II is a perfect late night spin, and a continuation of John Carpenter’s artistic renaissance.