2015's first great album may not even be from a musician. Now out, Lost Themes by John Carpenter has the icy menace of something out of a '80s horror flick. That's deliberate, not to mention fitting, as Carpenter's synth-based compositions for his films became one of the decade's signature sounds.
Now, the master of horror who -- along with the early Japanese video games -- informed a generation's appreciation of electronic, moody soundtracks has released a full record of music.
Carpenter's evocative sound has taken on a life of its own since its heyday during the Reagan administration. Today, synth is practically an indie subgenre in its own right: bands Symmetry, Desire and Chromatics on the Italians Do It Better record label owe their sound to Carpenter's atmospheric compositions.
The connection to Desire and Chromatics is essential, given their songs featured in Drive, a film indebted both to Carpenter's visual cues and often fatalistic worldview. Drive has Carpenter's sensibility and influence everywhere, even down to its musical score from Cliff Martinez. As a package, Martinez's score and the film's soundtrack were cited by Spin magazine as one of alternative music's top influences.
So, in a roundabout way, Carpenter's work fulfilled something said by none other than Tupac Shakur once: "I'm not saying I'm going to change the world, but I guarantee that I will spark the brain that will change the world." Inadvertently, Carpenter provided that spark which became an antidote to today's music trends, i.e. house, dubstep.
And this coming from someone who once claimed to not know how to read or write music.
However, despite its creator's overt musical legacy, Lost Themes still feels niche, something Nathan Rabin might write about in his Mutations column. Carpenter has been upfront about it being a fun side project, but hopefully it still finds an audience. At its best, Lost Themes parallels the dramatic paranoia of some of Carpenter's best film work; other times, it's as playful and silly as a video game.
The overall project is grounded in what I'll call throwbackitis: a serious cultural condition in which a project is judged not on its own merits, but how it instills nostalgia in its audience. (See the recent releases of Dumb & Dumber 2 and Anchorman 2.) This isn't necessarily bad, but it underscores the ability to generate buzz based solely on tapping into a grown person's memories of childhood.
It's been lucrative business model for others, so hopefully it'll be powerful enough to get Carpenter to direct another feature length movie. (Or maybe reunite The Coupe Devilles.)
Previously seen on Section Eighty.