The Twin Peaks Effect
By Lara CoryTwenty years ago, our imaginations were ignited and seduced by that infamous phrase- 'she's dead, wrapped in plastic.' Twenty years ago, David Lynch's Twin Peaks gave birth to a mythology that still resonates: Twin Peaks folklore is being reinterpreted and redistributed throughout our culture to this day.
The music industry seems particularly enamored with the power of David Lynch's vision of small town intrigue and mystery. The mood and atmosphere it created still echoes, at a low but definitely perceptible frequency, in many of the newer genres of music.
David Lynch's iconic series about the characters that inhabited the fictitious Washington town was centered round the murder investigation of local prom queen, Laura Palmer. Apparently Lynch was not keen on writing for television. He was simply scribbling out some ideas with writer Mark Frost as a favor for a friend. Inspired by a recent attempt at a Marilyn Monroe screenplay, Lynch felt that the intrigue surrounding a beautiful girl, a double life and murder would make potent TV. Riffing on the ideas explored in his film Blue Velvet, it seemed Lynch was experimenting with a theme and variations on the dark and scandalous underbelly of the 'All American' town. Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks share elements of murder, romance, Lynch's unique brand of horror and an unpredictable and quirky cast of characters.
Twin Peaks was a success and a phenomenon. I remember puzzling over the veiled and curiously coded mysteries of the red diary (“The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer,” written by Lynch's daughter, Jennifer) as it was passed around my friends at school. I was transported into the show's eerie atmosphere by listening to Julee Cruise's hit single "Falling" and its increasingly popular and influential soundtrack; Angelo Badalamenti, Lynch's resident composer, had created a score perfectly in tune with Twin Peaks lore. That score was responsible in many ways for creating the show's spirit - a paradox of innocence and menace, darkness and light lovingly realized through the themes and motifs that littered his composition. Twenty years later, people are making art and music influenced by Badalamenti's score and Lynch's perfect vision.
Overcoming the restricted impact of the small screen, Lynch's reach was powerful. He created an intense mise en scene and strength of mood as he conjured up lonely images of secretive pine forests, snow-capped mountaintops, owls, birds, logs, waterfalls and red curtains; surreal, dream-like flights of fancy made real and more frightening by the organic intelligence of the forest.
On its twentieth anniversary, blogs such as the 'Twin Peaks Gazette' and 'In Twin Peaks' celebrate the phenomenon and there's even a Twin Peaks Fest; it all adds up to a persistent artistic movement that draws inspiration from the themes, music, imagery and ideas surrounding the TV series.
Indie rock band Mount Eerie's Wind Poems (2009) makes a nod to the Badalamenti soundtrack. Here on "Through the Trees," Phil Elverum uses the lonely sound of an organ to reminisce about the sustained progressions of the Twin Peaks score. Meanwhile, the thin and floating vocals overlaying the rich and fluid harmonies remind me of Julee Cruise's ghostly vocal stylings. Tiny Mix Tapes explained how 'the Twin Peaks-inspired Through the Trees snakes through the woods' describing the album as mysterious - hypnotizing with rumblings of black-metal." Elverum's Between Two Mysteries (also from Wind Poems) directly samples the Twin Peaks theme “Falling” and plays around with the style of haunting tones Badalamenti loves so much.
Seattle's The Sight Below also seems to quietly slip into the Twin Peaks realm. It all Falls Apart (2010) is described by their record label, Ghostly International, as conjuring 'half-remembered dreams and soft-focus sentiments with elegiac beauty.' The Sight Below channels the moods and imagery associated with Twin Peaks and seems to form an unspoken allegiance with Lynch's love affair with obscurity and all things mysterious.
Stars of the Lid, a duo from Texas, have a song called “Music for Twin Peaks Part 1” on their 2007 Carte de Visite album. It is dark, haunting and seems to dream of belonging to the program's score.
Portland artist Grouper (Liz Harris) had a 2008 release called Dragging a Dead Deer up a Hill (2008) which seems inclined toward the same formula of darkness and light that Twin Peaks perfected so memorably. The album is described as 'particularly dark and disquieting within all its loveliness… what at first sounds mellow and lulling easily turns restless and spooky.' (D-Bo, Tiny Mix Tapes, 2009).
Perhaps it's something in the chords; hymnal and reverent, uplifting and ascending and then it's dark. The music grows discontent and threatening. It evokes desolate forests, lone mountain peaks, misty mornings and an indefinable and enticing wickedness.
Perhaps geography has something to do with it. There seems to be a link between the physical environments of many of these artists. Mount Eerie's Phil Elverum (along with other notable musicians Karl Blau and Bret Lunsford) lives in the heavily forested and misty town of Anacortes in Washington state where Mount Erie stands at 1,273 ft. Rafael Irisarri from The Sight Below also resides in Washington, washed out in the rainy, evergreen and desolate surrounds of Seattle.
In the same neighborhood as the Twin Peaks movement are the genres generally known as drone, dark ambient, doom, shoe-gaze, down-tempo and certain strains of electronica. The Twin Peaks/Badalamenti influence has a far reach; it's not just the colder, northern States of the U.S. that feel a connection to the atmosphere Lynch indelibly carved out twenty years ago. It's got nothing to do with proximity; it is an intangible, pervasive ambience that trickled into the creative subconscious of cultures from all over the world. The birth of these genres can be partially traced back to a genre commonly referred to as black metal.
Black metal, popular in the '80's is now seeing a resurgence in popularity with bands such as Xasthur, Leviathan, Wolves in the Throne Room and Sun O))). Having roots in northern Europe, this genre originated from places that exist in snowy, forested environments often shrouded in mist and lost to darkness for six months of the year. Being stranded in an endless night for so much of the year, it is no surprise that black metal and the many genres it has spawned, explore themes like violence, suicide, despair, occultism and endless dark.
Very much in line with the themes and moods explored in Twin Peaks, this modern day evocation and reinterpretation of the gothic genre brings together the ambient drama, horror and pathos evident in many of the Twin Peaks inspired songs and albums. Go visit Type Records, Ghostly International or BoomKat online and you will find a lot of these bands here. Check out bands like Atlanta's Deerhunter, Sydney band Ghosts of the Civil Dead, or the German Bohren and the Club de Gore. These bands too emit a subtle yet persistent Twin Peaks vibe.
As the dark and ambient genres born of black metal unfurl, there, lurking in the scrub of the sub-genre, is a collective of music and musicians that is inspired by the mood and the music of Twin Peaks. While it might not be a tightly defined group in its entirety, perhaps it's more of a discreet nod, or a sly wink. Either way, this skulking, recumbent movement is paying quiet homage to a creative force that seeped into the subconscious of our impressionable young minds and romantic hearts all those years ago.
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