It’s truly a glorious time to be both a horror movie fan and a lover of soundtracks! I’ve always appreciated soundtracks to movies, in particular genre scores, because no other genre manages to ingrain itself so effortlessly with its music than “horror.”
If I say HALLOWEEN, you immediately think of John Carpenter’s theme, right? Mere mention of the word EXORCIST should evoke Tubular Bells by Mike Oldfield.
And thankfully, with the vinyl revival of these last few years, amazing companies like DeathWaltz, Waxwork, One Way Static & Lunaris Records are leading the charge with releasing both modern and retro horror movie soundtracks.
But if you’re looking for some good solid background music not from any particular film, you need to check out these 6 recommendations. Because sometimes you just need a little mood music.
JOHN CARPENTER’S ‘LOST THEMES’
It goes without saying that John Carpenter is a “master” of horror. With a slew of classics under his belt like the original HALLOWEEN, THE FOG, THEY LIVE, ESCAPE FROM NY and many, many more, the one thing that most of his films share in common is just how bad-ass his musical scores are. And with the exception of only a few of his films, all of them are composed by the main man himself. Granted, he often cites lack of budget as the primary reason he resorted to using himself as a composer, but John’s being modest. He truly is an amazing musician. And so when his first “solo” album (co-penned by his son Cody and Daniel Davies) dropped in early 2015, we couldn’t be more excited. In fact, it still remains my favorite album release of the year. Apt is the album’s title as each individual track brings you into the world of what very well could be the score to an unmade John Carpenter movie. While comparisons can be drawn to instrumental Nine Inch Nails compositions or even Italian contemporaries Goblin (whom often score Dario Argento’s pictures), once you hear the first few synth notes of the opening track “Vortex,” you know there’s only one artist that sounds like this. With a remix album on the horizon, rumors of a limited tour and a follow-up second album sometime next year, we’ve got plenty more “lost themes” to look forward to!
PYE CORNER AUDIO (Death Waltz Recordings 10 inch)
Stop everything you’re doing and listen to the main track “Stars Shine Like Eyes” on the Death Waltz Recordings Soundcloud page, conveniently embedded below. After that, go buy this 10 inch off of their website, because it’s one of my favorite non-soundtrack releases of the year and warrants your attention, as well as lots of repeated spins. Reminiscent of Carpenter’s “Lost Themes,” but simultaneously doing its own thing, Pye Corner Audio has a lot of great electronic music available online, (we recommend hitting up their Bandcamp page and supporting the artist directly), but this 10 inch release from Death Waltz originals is a great place to start.
LAZERHAWK ‘SKULL AND SHARK’
I had originally first heard of Lazerhawk (Austin musician Garrett Hays) on an artist profile article on Bloody-Disgusting, but shortly after that, my friend Summer recommended I check the album “Skull and Shark” out and I’m so glad I did. If you added an industrial flourish to Charles Bernstein’s infamous score for A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, you’d sort of have Lazerhawk. Catchy, dance-y hooks. Aggressive beats and just a whole lot of groove, this album makes me long for a companion futuristic cyber “slasher” film to go along with it. But instead, I’ll just crank it and bob my head while I write and do other around-the-apartment tasks. Strip away the beats & percussion and you have something along the lines of what Disasterpiece did for IT FOLLOWS. Highly recommended!
E.S. POSTHUMUS ‘UNEARTHED’
Here’s an album that dates back to the early 2000’s which I only recently discovered. OK, side-tracking from the genre for a moment to point out I’m also a huge comic-book fan. So when I heard Sam Raimi (brought it back!) was directing the first live-action SPIDER-MAN movie, I was beyond ecstatic. The trailers all used this great operatic theme that I assumed would be the theme for the actual movie, but in actuality, composer Danny Elfman went for a far more restrained traditional score. One random day, I’m watching the trailers on the Blu-Ray and hear that theme again. I pull out my iPhone and open the Shazam app thinking it can’t possibly tell me the artist with dialogue playing. It’s probably just trailer music or something. But to my surprise, E.S. Posthumus came up! And the track in those SPIDER-MAN promos was called “Pompeii.” (Which I still to this day consider the real SPIDER-MAN theme.) I purchased the entire “Unearthed” album and found similar themes in that same vibe all through-out, including “Nara” (the theme to TV’s COLD CASE) and Elba (which reminds me of a BOONDOCK SAINTS theme, even though it has nothing to do with that franchise.) Another great album I strongly recommend for background listening!
MATT FINK “MUSIC OF THE VAMPIRES”
This one dates back to the late 90’s at a time when I was assigned to work in the “world” section at Tower Records in Carle Place, New York. The great thing about that job was I got introduced to so many different genres of music based both on the people I shared work space with and where I was stationed in the store. One afternoon in the jazz room, we’re playing this album simply titled “Music Of The Vampires” with a blue-ish cover and a close-up of Bela Lugosi’s face. Although only 9 tracks long, every track shifted from beautiful orchestration to synth pop to late-night Skinimax 80’s hair metal rock. And it had bits of dialogue from the original DRACULA sprinkled through-out. I’ve always loved this album. And Matt Fink, the composer behind it, went on to do a slew of sound-alike horror themes for tons of franchises. You can find his “covers” of the PUPPET MASTER theme or the HALLOWEEN theme on iTunes. But the true jewel of his output is this album “Music Of The Vampires!” It’s only $3.99 on iTunes!
NINE INCH NAILS “GHOSTS VOL I-IV”
In today’s day and age, it’s rather common for Nine Inch Nails music to pop up in trailers, commercials and movies. Hell, David Fincher recruited front man Trent Reznor and his frequent collaborator Atticus Ross to score his features THE SOCIAL NETWORK and GONE GIRL. But if you go back a bit to 2008, that’s when Nine Inch Nails independently released this fully instrumental double-album “Ghosts Vol I-IV.” I even recall a video contest open to the public to submit their best short films using one of the tracks from ‘Ghosts’ to accompany the clip. (Among one of the stand outs is Drew Daywalt’s short film ‘Dinner Date.’) While it took a little bit to get used to upon its original release, now tracks from Ghosts are used regularly in films and promo clips. Some of the themes on this album were re-used for THE SOCIAL NETWORK. So it’s definitely a score-heavy album that’s ideal for background listening. Let these soundscapes take your imagination wherever it may lead!
CARPENTER TRIBUTE by RETRO PROMENADE
Looking for something else in that Carpenter vein? Earlier this year, a compilation album by Retro Promenade titled simply “Carpenter” surfaced on Band Camp and features artists such as (the above mentioned) Lazerhawk, Irving Force, Who Ha and many more delivering original competitions inspired by the work of John Carpenter. It’s a pretty cool tribute and worth a spin. The album itself is FREE, but if you want to contribute a few bucks to show your support, you have that option also. And a bad-ass poster of the cover artwork they commissioned is available on the same page for $9.50.