Twin Peaks’ 2014 sophomore effort, Wild Onion, was well received. Praised as an overall improvement over Sunken, their lauded, lo-fi debut, Wild Onion seemed to capture the Chicago four-piece making good on their early promise. With production that captured the band’s best qualities, not the least of which was its enthusiasm, the songs of Wild Onion vacillated along a spectrum, with frantic, garage-rock murk and a pleasantly electric power-pop jangle on either end. In delivering Wild Onion, with their competent execution of competing sounds and attitudes, they paved several roads for themselves.
On Down In Heaven, Twin Peaks travel those same roads, while taking day trips and detours down a few new ones. They give every indication they’re enjoying the journey, adding horns to their arrangements and infusing their guitar sound with a country lilt. New to the lineup is Colin Croom, whose keyboard and organ work offsets the brazenness of the band’s guitar-heavy jangle. Recorded in a home studio in the summer of 2015, Down In Heaven is a touchstone for the band to revel in their successes and reveal yet more ambition. If Wild Onion found Twin Peaks in pursuit of the anthemic, Down In Heaven finds them in pursuit of the intimate, exploring notions of romance and self-reflection. Sonically, the album’s arrangements and aesthetic are bolstered by John Agnello’s unfussy mixing.
On the album’s opener, “Walk To The One You Love,” there is a moment when the guitars clamor and swirl, as if gathering energy. It’s a sound that could offer an appropriate portal into a garage stomper. Instead it segues into clean, bright country-blues, full of hooks, horns, and vocal harmonizing that is rife with exuberant hoots and yips. Characteristically, it finds the band in gleeful defiance of expectations. Twin Peaks challenge themselves to exhibit mastery of new sounds and structures—here, it’s country by way of rock ’n’ roll—then rise to those challenges on the strength of their musicianship. Without a sound to truly call their own, though, they do so by emulating The Rolling Stones, The Velvet Underground, and, at turns, Randy Newman.
The through-line of Twin Peaks’ career to date cannot be found in a sound but in the concept of reinvention. Down In Heaven is another play in a long game in which the band builds a discography that honors each of its artistic impulses. In the wrong hands, this strategy amounts to eschewing greatness in an effort to find more things to be good at, but in the right hands, it’s the career of greats like The Replacements. While Down In Heaven is a solid display of the band’s musicianship, its true merit will only be revealed in retrospect. The band is willing and able to make that gamble, and with maturity. As Clay Frankel sings, with Mick Jagger affect, on “Cold Lips”: “You can live how you want / You can live how you want / If you don’t mind living alone.”