Review Summary: Further cementing his legacy as a master composer.
The films of John Carpenter are perhaps best known for their atmospheric qualities. His horror classics are drenched in a level of darkness that owes a great deal to the films’ score. Who doesn’t immediately get chills down their spine when they hear the foreboding piano theme to Michael Myers in Halloween? These cult classics are almost universally recognizable. Few others have been able to achieve the kind of nostalgia and level of influence as Carpenter has in his almost half-a-century long career. The announcement that Sacred Bones Records were releasing an album’s worth of newly recorded stand-alone John Carpenter material not intended for any particular film score brought forth a unanimous level of excitement from fans of his previous work. Carpenter’s music has always played an integral role in what made his films so exciting.
is a record that is immediately characteristic of the John Carpenter name. The title is actually a bit misleading, as these themes were not collected over the course of his career but recorded for fun during jam sessions with his son. Each of these nine tracks are separate themes and tell their own self contained story, but it is worth noting how complete and cohesive the album feels from start to finish. In a Pitchfork interview, Carpenter stated that he viewed the record as “a soundtrack for the movies that you have in your mind. Everybody walks around with a movie playing in their head. Just imagine this is the soundtrack for you.”
From the opening piano chords of “Vortex” we are thrust into an ominous realm reminiscent of Carpenter’s ‘80s films. The song plays out as less Halloween
inspired and more Escape from New York
. He uses the same kind of progressions here that are present in his previous scores by letting the original melody to each theme transition to something entirely different before coming back full circle near the end. This only adds to the thrilling presence that dominates each of these themes. “Obsidian” utilizes this technique in a profound way. The soundscape unfolds from the background music of an eerie midnight drive through a dystopian metropolis into an organ driven chamber music style interlude. “Domain” serves as one of the most fun tracks here, somehow managing to be groovy and danceable yet still somewhat sinister in nature. Its retro synth arpeggios harken back to Carpenter classics such as “Pork Chop Express” from Big Trouble in Little China
The second half of the record descends into much creepier territory than the first half. “Mystery” boasts twinkly synths that evoke the classic science fiction nostalgia from films like Prince of Darkness
or The Thing.
“Abyss” moves in much the same fashion, with a neat rhythm progression near the end that further builds the tension the track begins on. Fans of Escape from New York
’s ascending and descending synth patterns need look no further than the true gem of the record, “Purgatory” which builds from a quiet and dissonant opening minute into an ‘80’s style jazz laden groove.
further cements John Carpenter’s legacy as a master composer. His music remains as relevant today as it was forty years ago. Carpenter brilliantly utilizes a plethora of musical influences in these nine tracks including ‘70s and ‘80s prog rock, synth rock, chamber music, disco, electronica, and hints of jazz fusion. The magic of Carpenter's analog recordings remains intact thanks to these influences and the techniques he incorporates into his compositions that give these polished, computer generated themes a nostalgic touch. Though we may not have the films to accompany these themes, what dwells within our minds could very well prove to be much more effective imagery for this soundtrack.