Essential tracks: John Carpenter's 'Lost Themes' gives off eerie, futuristic sounds

Randall Roberts
Contact ReporterLos Angeles Times Pop Music Critic
'Lost Themes' is John Carpenter's first non-soundtrack musical release, but it does have a horror movie vibe

John Carpenter, "Lost Themes" (Sacred Bones). Horror movie master John Carpenter is best known for his classic screamers including "Halloween," "Escape From New York" and "They Live," but many may not realize that the director also scores his own movies, filling them with eerie strings and throbbing synthesizers. "Lost Themes" is Carpenter's first nonsoundtrack musical release and features work composed specifically for this project.

An all-instrumental album, "Lost Themes" could well be the score to some unwritten treatment. If so, it'd be some futuristic horror movie, filled as it is with throbs of analog synthesizer tones and big, grand keyboard clusters. It feels like an album out of time, something that could have been made yesterday or in 1976. Think Vangelis with beefier sounds, or TV music from "Logan's Run."

Cheesy? Yeah, at times, "Lost Themes" is pretty cheesy. "Domain" recalls an end-of-movie spaceship chase scene. "Purgatory" sounds like '80s New Age. "Abyss" is rich with synth atmospherics. More striking are the remixes, the best of which see artists Zola Jesus & Dean Hurley, J.G. Thirlwell and Blanck Mass reimagining the tracks with up-to-the-moment sonic flourish.

John Tejada, "Signs Under Test" (Kompakt). Few Southern California producers have so consistently crafted chrome-toned electronic dance tracks as John Tejada. Starting with his minimal early albums and tracks issued by labels Plug Research, deFocus and Palette, the producer has built synthesized sounds, melodies and movements typified by a kind of aerodynamic sheen. Frequencies move through four-on-the-floor bumps in that sweet spot of 125 beats-per-minute zone and do so minus any hint of distortion or aggression.

This is Tejada's third album for the German label Kompakt, and it features 11 synthetic beat tracks. Entirely instrumental and designed for 3 a.m. dance floor epiphanies, the record is tuned to that period after midnight exuberance has faded and a gentler, more hypnotic vibe takes over.

"Beacht," for example, piles steady snare below sibilant synthetic high-hat repetition, keyboard melodies and dots of counterpoint melodic responses, which Tejada braids into an intricate, taut rope of sound. The track "y O why" moves through its 41/2 minutes with the determination of a hypnotist swinging a shiny object. "Signs" confirms a producer who appreciates the power of a precisely honed groove.

Various Artists, "Dance Mania: Ghetto Madness" (Strut Records). Raw, relentless, filled with bawdy chants and massive thumpy beats, the 15 tracks on "Dance Mania: Ghetto Madness" document one of the weirdest regional house music scenes of the 1990s. Though Chicago birthed house music in the 1980s, the scene had died down by the early '90s; that didn't stop Dance Mania from reigniting the music through an exuberant minimalism and raucous, punk-like energy. Along with Curtis Jones' Cajual and Relief imprints, Dance Mania artists including DJ Deeon, Paul Johnson, DJ Funk, Tyree and Parrish Mitchell fomented back-to-basics movement at a moment when house music was taking over the world.

"Ghetto Madness" is Strut's second curated volume of Dance Mania tracks issued in the '90s. This is an acquired taste to anyone not versed in thumpy house. Repetition rules. Midsong breaks are simple. A sampler triggers vocal mantras, many unprintable because of cussed commands for the dance floor.

The tones come straight from Roland's transformative rhythm machines — 303s, 808s and 909s. But despite its often rudimentary nature, this stuff was incredibly influential and remains propellant. French superstars Daft Punk have long mixed Dance Mania tracks into their DJ sets, and the spirit of this influential work helped nudge the so-called micro-house movement of the early '00s. Most important, the label influenced the rise of "juke music," the frantic Chicago sub-genre typified by the hot tracks of the late DJ Rashad.

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