A Place Both Wonderful and Strange: Revisiting the Music of Twin Peaks

With the return of Twin Peaks only hours away, I figure it’s the perfect time to go back and give attention to something that contributed just as much to the success of the show as any of the actors or lines of dialogue: the soundtrack. The score for the show written by composer Angelo Badalamenti is a character in its own right, playing throughout the series at nearly every turn to let you know which force in Twin Peaks is holding sway at any particular moment and worming its way into your brain. However, even without having ever seen the show, this score still stands as excellent music that seems removed from any particular time or place. It is all at once a cinematic score, a drink of lounge jazz/post-bop, a light/dark exploration of synthesizer sounds and vehicle for vocalist Julee Cruise to sing about love and darkness. Just like the show it comes from, it manages to handle all these styles and themes well without seeming jarring or shoe-horned.

The theme song in and of itself is worth checking out the soundtrack for. It starts with strong, yet warbling guitar notes forming a simple base for a keyboard to back, then the soothing synth tones come in. They speak to a sense of serenity that I’ve only known while listening to this song. Then, the synthesizer starts ramping up and taking you higher and higher, allowing you to ascend into the embrace of everything that is good in the world. Then finally, it explodes and you’re surrounded by an overwhelming sense of peace, coupled with an ecstasy to rival any sort of high a drug could manufacture. This repeats for a few minutes and if you’ve seen the show, all you can think about is wood being cut, birds sitting on logs and water running both in a stream and over the falls near The Great Northern lodge. If you haven’t seen the show, it just allows you to sink further and further into a state of bliss. This may seem like pretentious blathering, and make no mistake, it is, but that doesn’t make any of it any less true. The “Twin Peaks Theme” is nothing short of iconic and will forever hold a place in my heart. I hope that one day it can hold a place inside yours.

After that, you’re hit with another iconic song “Laura Palmer’s Theme”. Dark synthesizer opens the song up with low rumbles of piano acting as punctuation for these sinister musical statements. This continues for a bit, then the piano moves to the forefront and takes us into a realm of mystery just before it goes further and moves into the realm of rapture. This doesn’t last for long, as we are then plunged back down into the depths of sorrow and the song repeats until its close. This song is another key theme throughout the entirety of the show (hence the name) and you will know all of its peaks and valleys by the time you’re finished with the series and more than likely long before that. Fun Fact: It was actually recently revealed that the midi notation for this track in particular forms a set of twin peaks, which led David Lynch to exclaim, “It’s cosmic! It’s cosmic! It’s cosmic!” This isn’t the last you hear of this song as you go down the season one tracklist, either. It pops up later as “Love Theme”, which sees it being performed on synthesizer and flute, which takes the arrangement into another dimension of vulnerability entirely.

The other instrumental pieces on this record are just as good as these two themes, such as the enigmatic and mischievous “Audrey’s Dance” with it’s discordant horns and sax combined with brushed drums and snaps. Then, you have “Freshly Squeezed”, which is another song on this tracklist that you can move and groove to, with some fantastic work on what sounds like a marimba. “The Bookhouse Boys” takes parts from songs previously heard on the soundtrack and throws them in a blender with a few added synth lines. “Night Life in Twin Peaks” is more of an ambient affair, though no less haunting than anything else present before it. Last but not least you have “The Dance of The Dream Man” which is a fantastic sax led song with brushed drums, snaps and a bit of keyboard thrown in that will lead you to dream of small men dancing in red rooms on black and white floors near armless statues of women.

Mixed within the instrumentals, you have songs with vocal contributions by dreams pop vocalist Julee Cruise, who occasionally appears in performing some of these tracks in scenes that take place in the seedy Bang Bang Bar. The lyrics are written by David Lynch, and offer images of nightingales, darkness and falling in love. “The Nightingale” is a 50’s style doo-wop track that sees Julee singing as if she were on a dream pop song, crooning away about a bird telling her that has found her love. It’s a little cheesy, but i believe that it adds to the charm and eeriness of the whole affair. Her second contribution is “Into the Night”, a very uneasy tune about crying out the name of a loved one into the night, backed by murky synthesizers and occasional guitar strums and synthesized strings. it also has a part that is quite scary and alarming if you’re not expecting it. Even when you are it can still get you, so brace for it around the 3:28 mark of the song. Then, her final contribution and the album’s last song is called “Falling” which is her singing over the theme song. Her ethereal vocals hover over the track while she sings about falling in love while making sure that she doesn’t let herself be hurt this time. It’s quite the mesmerizing song, with my only complaint being that her vocal track literally hovers over the instrumental and is a little too loud. I think if she had been brought down in the mix it would have improved the track a little bit, but regardless, it’s still a great reinterpretation of the atmosphere that the instrumental provides and is worth listening to for her vocal performance.

This music defines the first and second seasons of the show, but as I stated before, it engages and intrigues on its own merit. You don’t need nostalgia value or quirky/dark/interesting visuals to appreciate the sonic diversity on display here. The music may even give you reason to check out the show, which I think is enough of a reason to give it a listen if you have the time, especially considering that we’ll have eighteen more hours of material within its universe to delve into shortly. Music that transports you to another place separate from the trappings of time should always be celebrated and the music on this soundtrack is damn near as close to timeless as you can get. There’s something here for virtually any listener of any age or taste range to sink their teeth into. Much like a hot cup of coffee from the Great Northern and a warm slice of cherry pie from the Double R Diner, it’s damn good.

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