2020 Music Reviews

EP Review: Twin Peaks ‘Side A’

Twins Peaks Side A

At a moment increasingly defined by derailed plans and readjusted expectations, the latest release from Chicago rock band Twin Peaks attempts to salvage a scrap of joy from the confusion. Having begun work on a follow up their 2019 album Lookout Low, the quintet found themselves paralysed by the coronavirus pandemic — as most did — and took the decision to push ahead with the handful of songs they had that were close to completion. With a mixture of home-working, socially-distanced studio sessions and guest contributions, the group managed to complete a four-track release, Side A, which manages to, at some times, tap presciently into the unease of the time and, at others, wilfully ignore it in favour of indulgent nostalgia. It’s a duality that’s easy to sympathise with right now.

Opening track “What’s the Matter” crashes in on bounding guitars and pianos like the ghost of an easygoing summer that will never be. It runs on that beachy aesthetic, heavily indebted to the sound of Brian Wilson, layering on organ flourishes and whimsical pan flutes that embellish its warm and simple sound. Guitarist Clay Frankel takes the lead vocal on the track, lackadaisically strolling through an unstructured verse that can’t help but tap into that 21st century brand of melancholy that has come to define millennial cultural expression — “I wanna reach out and hold on tight to the one thing I hold dear,” he mumbles in a hint at the deeper anxieties informing Twin Peaks’ songwriting. It’s telling that the airy vocal harmonies of the song’s closing passage (reinforced by fellow Chicagoans OHMME and V.V. Lightbody) fade slowly into silence, almost surrendering to the ephemerality of the song’s optimistic groove.

The following track, “Whistle in the Wind (End of Everything),” is a distinctly bleaker affair, tapping into a bluesy palate defined by sparse saxophone diversions and a slow, sultry guitar riff. The track is led by bassist Jack Dolan, who sings in a low, gloomy register to catalyse the apocalyptic hopelessness of the lyrics. “It’s what you get / It’s where you are / It’s how it goes / What a world,” goes the central refrain, as his bandmates lope ahead with a looseness that leans into those jam band tendencies from which Twin Peaks can trace their heritage. It’s the EP’s most contemplative cut, and its most effective — couching its sense of paranoia and ennui in a gorgeous, only lightly-structured sonic template.

What’s clear across Side A is that while Twin Peaks’ output has always worn its garage rock legacy proudly on its sleeve, the band is more explicitly mining the past for direct inspiration than ever. If “What’s the Matter” is a Beach Boys ode and “Whistle in the Wind” nods to The Allman Brothers Band, then “Any More Than You Want” continues the trend backwards in its Beatles-esque chord progressions and the exchanges between a fuzzy guitar risk and springy acoustic strumming that harken to the Grateful Dead. It sees Twin Peaks robustly inhabiting of the hippy rock style, inflecting it with the unabashed yearning of guitarist/keyboardist Colin Croom’s vague falsetto refrain — “It won’t be long.” A palpably emotive pair of guitar solos that intervene with the song’s vocal sections are an entertaining embodiment of the EP’s efforts to straddle the comfort of the past and the unease of the present.

Completing the track list, closer “Above/Below” is an unabashedly psychedelic odyssey in the classic mode. Its driving drums and rumbling bass immediately call to mind The Beatles’ groundbreaker “Tomorrow Never Knows” while the spacey vocal lead from guitarist Cadien James flies above the mix, reaching out to the eagle that’s “screaming above, and below.” It’s a six-minute-plus trip of a song, indulging whole-heartedly in stoner-rock noodling and flowery synth and woodwind accompaniment. The consistency and sturdiness of drummer Connor Brodner allows his bandmates to fall down a rabbit hole of movements and augmentations while maintaining a sense of buoyancy and direction. Amid the turbulence from which Side A was born, the final track sees Twin Peaks reminding the listener that a little comfort, a little familiarity and a little fun are the things that will pull us through.

While Side A sees Twin Peaks presenting four distinct tracks, each of which explores aesthetic territory barely touched by the band previously, the sounds it contains have clear roots in the history of American music. Meaning, while there’s plenty for listeners to enjoy here, there’s little to challenge them. The strength of Side A is the acceptance of its limitations — now is perhaps not the time for rock bands to reinvent the wheel, but instead to provide some kind of solace, support or guidance. The members of Twin Peaks themselves have made clear their commitment to the pressing political causes of the moment in pledging proceeds from their merchandise sales to Black Lives Matter’s Chicago chapter, and so Side A feels like more of a reflection of the psychological present than the social one. It doesn’t make any demands or bold steps forward, it simply reflects on one hand and entertains on the other. Some of the final words on the closing track allude to evil’s propensity to return anew, and so Twin Peaks seem to offer this EP as a bid to make sure good is ready to meet evil at the other side.

Rhys Handley (@RhysHandley2113) is a journalist and film writer from Yorkshire in England. Now based in London, he is the biggest Talking Heads fan who still hasn’t seen Stop Making Sense.