When people discuss the works of David Lynch, they tend to focus on the surrealist nature of his storytelling, the dream-like rigidity of his actors’ delivery, and the complexity and originality of a story that, at the hands of another director, could have meandered as a blandly straightforward, tired tale of exploring human emotions. And as great as his idiosyncrasies are, most notably his unnatural focus of soap opera stylizations, Lynch has consistently shown that the music of his works is just as important to the story, if not more so. The modality of his use of songs, the way they precede a character’s revelation or underline the culminating climax, working as not just another element of film but instead as a facet as deeply important as the characters themselves, is something that cannot be ignored. And much like Eraserhead’s “In Heaven” or Mulholland Dr.’s “Llorando”, the music of Twin Peaks is saturated in brash emotionality and theatricalities, the kind that in any other setting, with any other visionary, would never feel so naturalistic.
So when word got out that this year’s Record Store Day would include a full-length cover of the Twin Peaks soundtrack, it felt a little forced as a product, one whose artificiality could degrade the legacy of the show. Its intentions were transparent: to rekindle the love of a show making a return to television, effectively hyping up that whose initial runtime was cut short due to poor viewership. Given the seemingly obviousness of its purpose, expectations were low, at least on a conceptual level. But the fact that Lynch had commissioned the project himself, having hand-chosen Xiu Xiu as the group to accomplish the lofty task, gave much more promise to what could have floundered as a marketing tactic, a means of channeling and exploiting a nostalgia trip whose cult following rivaled the likes of Freaks and Geeks or Firefly. But Lynch’s intentions shouldn’t have been doubted, because Xiu Xiu’s Plays the Music of Twin Peaks never feels like a product of commercialization or a vapid misuse of an iconic soundtrack. Instead, it functions on its own as a unique addition to the band’s growing collection of delicate music whose significance is matched only by its internal emotional fragility.
Xiu Xiu are no stranger to covers, and when exploring the range of approaches found on the Twin Peaks soundtrack, they strike a fine balance between “cover” and “reworking”. Oftentimes, songs will start the same way they did over twenty-five years ago, their familiarity slowly chipping away, obscured by the band’s blend of noise and discomfort, but never venturing into experimentation as deeply as they have in the past. The actual sonic approaches vary throughout, something the group does exceptionally well, though with an album like this it can be difficult to note which props should be given to the band and which should be given to the source material. Many albums have historically suffered from a lack of cohesion by pairing clashing styles together, but Plays the Music of Twin Peaks shuffles through dissimilarities with ease. “Nightsea Wind”, an ambient track that harshly drones on and grows more chaotic precedes “Blue Frank:Pink Room”, a fuzzed-out, semi-straightforward bar rock instrumental. It’s a little disjointed, slightly all over the place, but the imperfections of Twin Peaks was always part of its charm. Its accompanying soundtrack is no exception.
Even when Xiu Xiu plays a near identical rendition of the original score, they inject their trademark manic pop sensibilities into the mix. “Audrey’s Dance” and “Packard’s Vibration” have morphed into a much more schizophrenic take on the original’s cool, neo-noir vibes. “Falling”, the vocalized version of the show’s theme song, and “Sycamore Tree” have now been expectantly elevated by Jamie Stewart’s quivering, almost desperately hopeless delivery. Twin Peaks was often cited for its functionality as a mystery, but at its core it was a character drama, one whose focus never strayed from the humanization of its players. And if ever there were a band to capture the experimentations of Lynch and the resounding frailty of his characters, it would be Xiu Xiu. When you watch Twin Peaks, the respective themes of Laura Palmer and Harold Smith stick with you in a form of dangerous memorability, one that cannot be shaken. Told through the perspective of the illustrious trio, it leeches on in the most nightmarishly vivid way, a way you don’t want shaken.
Plays the Music of Twin Peaks could have been nothing more than another in a long line of passable, semi-gimmicky Record Store Day releases whose tangibility as a collector’s item far exceeded its actual worth. But both Xiu Xiu and David Lynch have proven time and time again that when they attach their respective names to a project, its merit is, above all, the central focus and driving force behind its production. What could have been a standard string of covers of Angelo Badalementi’s decade-spanning compositions is instead a reimagining of the themes that fans of the show know so well, told through a lens of hyper-emotionality and subtle, but nonetheless cataclysmic, distortion.
– Zach W.