A brief look into the music from Twin Peaks The Return
A subtle, eerie vibration plays as the camera wanders through a gloomy fog, illuminated by a single rainbow halo, slowly transitioning into the iconic prom photo of Laura Palmer. The camera escapes the fog to reveal an arial view of those majestic Douglas Firs. An omniscient bass, then a resonant low F, inviting the camera into the landscape of rural Washington. The tension is taut, secretive, as the F descends downward, begging to be resolved. Then the chord hits with a chorus of synthesizers and the camera pans over the rushing waterfall. We’re back in the strange and wonderful town of Twin Peaks.
Twin Peaks' composer, Angelo Badalamenti, has the unique talent of combining beauty with fear. While listeners are accustomed to songs being dominated by either major or minor notes, Badalamenti combines the two, creating a dreamscape somewhere between happy and sad. This, paired with suspending notes, low registers, and internal harmonies creates an other worldly sound, one that defines the show in all its quirky, scary, uncomfortable drama. Listening to Twin Peaks is as revealing as watching Twin Peaks, and it is just one of the aspects of the show that what makes it such a special series—the music and the plot work to inform each other.
This is no accident. David Lynch and Badalamenti are a creative match made in heaven. In a series titled Creating the Music, Badalamenti describes how he and Lynch worked together to write "Twin Peaks Love Theme." Lynch has a specific image in mind and describes that scene, then Badalamenti composes according to Lynch's descriptions. The two understand each other on an indescribable level. While many directors plan on composing the music after shooting, Lynch often plays the tracks that are going to be played during a scene for this actors to help them better understand the mood of scene. Music works in tandem with cinematography for Lynch, not as a mere compliment.
In Twin Peaks: The Return, Badalamenti’s trademark sound is prominent, but it’s not the only force at play. A music junkie in his own right, Lynch weaves indie bands into this season while also calling on some classics from the likes of Beethtoven and David Brubeck. Blended with strategic silences, ambient droning sounds, and the hum of electrical wires, these bands' music create the perfect soundscape for Lynch’s confusingly majestic dream world.
Every episode, except the seventh and eleventh (convenience store reference?!), brings us back to those flashing guns with a strange conversation between Twin Peaks locals and a top notch band. How this tiny bar in the middle of nowhere Washington is able to book such acts is another Twin Peaks mystery.
The songs from the Roadhouse often speak to the ethereal aura of the town and the diseased disfunction that seems to loom over her residents. Take The Veils’ “Axolotl” for instance, produced by El-P of Run the Jewels. The lyrics speak of a glowing light, referencing the holy glowing orb that is Laura Palmer, and questioning “who built this heart,” perhaps referencing the blue rose and the manufactured dopplegangers. While The Veils perform, an innocent looking girl is removed from her seat by two biker men, and after falling to the floor, she loses her glasses, causing her to crawl around The Roadhouse floor helplessly. The sequence mirrors imagery of Naido in the series, and with The Veils passionately bellowing “Oh my soul, losing control,” the idea of spiraling out of control becomes all the more vivid. The same effect could not be achieved with the imagery or music alone.
Rebekah Del Rio’s “No Stars” has the same effect. The lyrics mirror’s Lynch as Gordon Cole playing out his Monica Bellucci dream, a metaphysical sequence that feels like Lynch is acting out a dream he’s had in the past which resulted in Twin Peaks. In the dream, Monica Bellucci says, “We are like the dreamer who dreams and then lives inside the dream,” then asking, “but who is the dreamer?” This scene makes Del Rio’s appearance all the more provocative, as her song is about going into dreams and reality turning into dreams. Each song that is played at The Roadhouse could be analyzed at this intricate level, but the featured artists are only a small portion of the music that appears in the show.
What’s so fascinating about Twin Peaks: The Return isn’t the cameos or the headliners but the fact that this season feels like a culmination of Lynch’s work and life. The show references the grim black and white landscape in Eraserhead, calls on Lynchian themes of dreams, horror, and the ugliness beneath a seemingly ideal society, and pays homage to Lynch’s favorite films such as Sunset Boulevard and Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Lynch deliberately shows his hand, and the score backs him up.
In an interview with Spin in 2013, Lynch discusses a VHS tape he watched with performances from ZZ Top and Otis Redding, where Redding performed “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long,” which moved Lynch to tears. Then in Episode 15, The Roadhouse celebrates ZZ Top Night directly after Ed and Norma finally get together in what is one of the most endearing moments in Twin Peaks history, to the sound of Otis Redding. These are songs that are powerful to Lynch as an individual. Lynch is doing Lynch.
As a musician in his own right, Lynch contributes to the score himself. One easter egg can be spotted in Sarah Palmer’s first appearance. Sarah sits on her couch watching a gory documentary of lions eating water buffalo and in the background, Lynch’s voice can be heard singing lyrics from his own song, “Last Call.” Here, Lynch is blending his entire body of work into Twin Peaks.
With The Return comes two companion soundtracks: Twin Peaks (music from the limited event) and Twin Peaks (limited event series original soundtrack), the former being a score from Badalamenti and Lynch and the latter songs featured from various musicians. Each of these are artistic pieces in themselves, deserving appreciation in their own right. With the two-part finale in arms reach, viewers are eager to tie every loose string in Twin Peaks. Will evil Cooper be defeated? Will Audrey get out of whatever dimension she’s stuck in? And for God’s sake, can Nadine and Dr. Lawrence Jacoby get together all ready? But don’t let Twin Peaks get in the way of experiencing Twin Peaks. These questions are fleeting when compared to the overarching intricacies of rebooting a 25-year-old show.
Let Lynch’s dream world take over, knowing that the answers you’re looking for may not exist. Let the cool sounds trickle down your spine, unafraid of confusion. Listen to the music, hell, try turning the sound off for a moment and see how the lack of music influences the scene. Between the body horror and sci-fi effects, it’s easy to get lost in Twin Peaks and overlook the masterful use of sound. The music at the Roadhouse, Badalamenti’s dreamy score, and the long silences drive the dream-like actions more than it follows it. Channel your inner Audrey, proclaiming with seductive self-assurance, that this music is just too dreamy.