Ginger Nuts of Horror
When I was a young lad growing up in the 1980s (mid to late, specifically), it was a heady time. It seemed as though everyone was into all the same stuff, especially where films were concerned and we generally cared not a jot about genre labels (maybe they didn't exist back then...). Comedy, action, horror, drama, sci-fi, fantasy, cartoons, live-action and so on - all had equal footing in our minds (perhaps this was unique to growing up in the south of Ireland, I don't know). But I can't help feeling that I was affected most by a certain type of film - namely that which used analogue synthesizer music as its score. For some reason, films like this loom large in the landscape of my imagination - The Terminator, Blade Runner, Tron, Demons (yes, I got to see this as a pre-teen...), Firestarter, Near Dark, Dawn... and Day of The Dead - many, many films I love, with soundtracks by Vangelis, Tangerine Dream, Goblin, Brad Fiedel and so on. But most prolific of all were the scores by one John Carpenter, composed for his own films. Films like Halloween, The Fog, Escape From New York, Big Trouble In Little China, Christine, Dark Star... (I appreciate most of you will know exactly who JC is, but on the odd chance that one or two don't...).
All of which brings us to the following review. You see, big John Carpenter has released a new CD of original music. This album, entitled 'Lost Themes' completely harks back to his signature sound...indeed, it could almost be tracks that were written for, but never used in his films. Almost...
What we have here is nine tracks which absolutely embody that classic analogue synthesizer sound, whilst also throwing in tiny shades of a more modern approach. And since I'm a complete sucker for anything that sounds like this, I had to have it. I don't think there's any denying the influence JC's soundtrack music has had on other film-makers and certain bands which embody the horror/SF style that this music was so prevalent in, bands such as Zombi - but I also suspect that shades of his (and other's) music has crept into other, less obvious artist's output. Think Aphex Twin, Autechre, even rising bands like Chvrches...
Without the necessity of having to score each track according to a specific scene, carpenter is able to develop the music into a cohesive unit, whilst also maintaining a uniformity to the album which never descends into repetitiveness. In fact, I'd go so far as to say this is Carpenter's most mature, accomplished work and the least self-conscious (as much as I love the film, some of Big Trouble In Little China's music cues make me cringe with their slightly embarrassing rock-stylings). Sure, there are snippets of licks and riffs that put one in mind of this films or that, but the tunes are whole constructs in their own right and are very good ones too.
It's a great time for this sort of music and there's clearly an audience for it, as evidenced by the rise of the aforementioned Chvrches, or even Lorde; by the popularity of films such as The Guest, Drive, Tron Legacy or Maniac (films which work as well as they do, in part due to their music and, in some cases, their 80s style). For me, 'Lost Themes' sits alongside all of these as a prime example of how to do this kind of thing right. It's both an essential purchase for any fan of Carpenter's soundtracks and for anyone with an interest in synthesized sounds and synth-pop.
Buy it, stick it on and travel back to the 80s, where films were grungier, grimmer and often had a pulsing synth soundtrack. Enjoy.