John Carpenter – Lost Themes
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Though his filmmaking career slowed in the 2000s and 2010s, John Carpenter's influence as a composer only grew. Along with Tangerine Dream, his immediately recognizable sound -- full of pulsing synths and ever-ratcheting tension -- inspired a new generation of acts like Zombi, Majeure, Umberto, Espectrostatic, and Geoff Barrow's Drokk project, among many others, so the timing couldn't have been more perfect for Carpenter to release new music when Lost Themes arrived. Despite that title, these songs aren't attached to any films; instead, they offer a multiplex worth of possibilities for listeners to soundtrack their lives. As Carpenter gives fans exactly what they want -- those ominous synth arpeggios appear less than a minute into the opening track, "Vortex" -- he also engages them on a slightly different level, allowing them to put their imagery and stories to his music for the first time. Soundtrack geeks will also enjoy connecting Lost Themes to his previous work: the power chords that slash through the album call to mind his later, guitar-oriented scores like Vampires, and the intricate keyboard counterpoint that begins "Mystery" shares more than a little of Halloween's sparkling menace. However, it's not necessary to be a Carpenter expert to enjoy "Domain"'s brassy duel between danger and victory. Throughout Lost Themes, Carpenter -- aided by his son Cody and godson Daniel Davies -- uses a more-is-more approach that sets him apart from his followers, most of whom focus on tastefully taut atmospheres. The fun he has expanding his music is almost palpable, particularly on the eight-minute "Obsidian," which spans moments of action, horror, discovery, and victory in its suite-like sweep (it's also a synth lover's dream, with rippling arpeggios, crystalline pads, and a tone that sounds like flowing water). Similarly, the dogpile of synths that closes "Purgatory" is both a throwback and oddly timeless. A big part of Lost Themes' brilliance lies in Carpenter's refusal to update his aesthetic -- the more '80s it is, the more vital it sounds. As he leaps from one thrill to the next, he evokes his past without rehashing it, delivering a complete and immensely satisfying portrait of his music along the way.