John Carpenter is a master of thrills. The legendary filmmaker and composer unnerves and titillates by fusing sight and sound—how the light catches a blade or outlines a breast, for instance, and the way heartbeat rhythms drive his bare synths. Because Carpenter’s horror and sci-fi movies establish a visual and emotional vocabulary for his music, the albums in his Lost Themes series similarly build up dangerous tension followed by resolution. That’s what makes his latest release, Lost Themes III: Alive After Death, surprising. Instead of being faithful to this formula, Carpenter and his longtime musical partners—his son, Cody, and his godson, Daniel Davies, son of the Kinks’ Dave Davies—have created an ambient unease that’s never fully realized or resolved.
Tracks such as “Weeping Ghost” and “The Dead Walk” have the manic, aggressive energy of someone escaping, stalking, or fighting—arguably the hallmark of Carpenter’s most beloved songs—but they’re not juxtaposed with pieces that evoke calm or recovery. Instead, Carpenter uses his distinctive flourishes—electronic bass lines, shimmering keyboards, and groaning chain-saw guitars—to create a simmering anxiety. This could be a conscious reaction to the pandemic, or to a sociopolitical climate fraught with hypervisible daily peril; it’s just as likely, though, to be a response to a new generation of synth artists inspired by Carpenter (such as Carpenter Brut and Boy Harsher), who more often create atmospheres and experiences than clear story lines. As musicians, Cody Carpenter and Daniel Davies work primarily in soundtracks, so they’re adept at serving narrative—an ambition they leave unrealized in Lost Themes III. But they’ve created something interesting by evoking an imaginary horror you can never totally escape—it’s certainly more compelling than a real one. v