When you think of Chicago, what springs to mind? The Bean? Ferris Bueller? Navy Pier? In 2019, it should be Twin Peaks. No, the TV show isn’t making its rumoured comeback. I’m talking about Twin Peaks dudes, Windy City’s basement rock ‘n’ roll kings.
Playing together since 2010, Twin Peaks aren’t afraid to evolve and Lookout Low is one of their best examples of that. This offering feels a lot looser and carefree than the rest of their discography but there’s no denying that they run a tight ship. The album follows on from the Sweet ’17 Singles and 2016’s ‘Walk to the One You Love’.
‘Casey’s Groove’ is the galvanising starting gun fans have been desperately waiting for. It’s dripping in their defining crooning harmonies and gritty riffs but differs enough to keep things fresh. The twangs of the guitars dipping up and down and intensifying drum beats from Connor Brodner set the tone for a smooth ride.
Nonchalant piano notes glide through ‘Laid in Gold’, accompanied by swinging horn arrangements from multi-instrumentalist Colin Croom. It errs on the side of country, but again doesn’t stray too far from their gritty ethos – after all, it wouldn’t be a Twin Peaks album if there weren’t some mention of weed or junk food, so the subsequent track’s got that covered. ‘Better Than Stoned’ is a love song that’s short and simple but that’s really all it needed to be. Whether it’s addressed to a woman or weed itself is another question.
Because of the live nature of the album, ‘Unfamiliar Sun’ inherently feels incredibly candid. It’s Jack Dolan’s ode to his struggles with depression, touching on how it’s affected his perception of the world and his attempts to do whatever it takes to feel better. Stripped-back acoustics make room for some sincere storytelling.
Let’s talk about Dolan’s bass on ‘Dance Through It’. I can already hear crowds humming along on tour, which is fitting for a record which was pretty much destined for the stage. The first taster of what was to come, ‘Dance Through It’ feels like the best example to show off Twin Peaks’ new direction. Though guitarist Cadien Lake James is the one carrying the track’s chorus, Twin Peaks is by no means a one-person operation. Clay Frankel, also a guitarist, backs this up. “There’s no ringleader in how we write songs,” he says. “Things would be a lot easier if there was one guy calling the shots but we really put an effort to make it work and make everyone happy.”
Despite none of Twin Peaks being formally trained, their ear for a melody has only become stronger with each release. Sweet backing vocals from their Chicagoan friends Sima Cunningham and Macie Stewart (of Ohmme fame) accompany signature whoops on Lookout Low, which feels like a natural extension of their on-stage energy preserved forever on an LP.
We hear a lot from Croom on Lookout Low. His New Orleans commute inspired the easy-going melody to ‘Ferry Song’, and it’s refreshing to hear another instrument aside from a guitar taking the lead on tracks. Like the title track it has clear influences from Bob Dylan’s time, with the journey from Algiers point to the city infusing it with a cool stillness. On a similar note, ‘Under a Smile’ exudes summertime sun-bleached contemplation – The nights are drawing in, the temperature has dropped and you’re contemplating the warmth that’s left the air. Cunningham and Stewart’s vocals could be straight out of a choir, permeating the track with soul-inflected swing.
Mixing together raw vocals and signature garage rock-infused riffs are what Twin Peaks do best and on ‘Oh Mama’ it shows. Inspired by a moonlit walk in Byron Bay (and possibly some mushrooms in the mix), it was done and dusted on its first take, the same as the title track. That’s the beauty of working with Ethan Johns (Paul McCartney, Kings of Leon, U2), who took the band to Wales to work on the record. The band decamped to Monnow Valley Studio, tirelessly whittling down 27 songs to the 10 you see today – with any luck, the ones that didn’t quite make it this time will re-emerge.
‘Sunken II’ is a timeless closing number. Having written the song years ago, Dolan decided it would best fit nestled at the end of the album; a moment of resonance to relish in the time the band have spent perfecting their work as artists, but more importantly as friends. It’s an homage to earlier days of scrappy high school sessions, in both its sound and writing.
It’s always worrying when bands take a different road. Though the album is still in keeping with their roots, there’s a considerable sonic shift to Lookout Low. Parts of it feel a lot more sombre than their past offerings, but it’s a welcome change from the 100-miles-an-hour anthems they’ve churned out on the likes of Wild Onion and Sunken. I myself was sceptical; the fast-paced rock ’n’ roll was what drew me and, I would imagine, many others to Twin Peaks. But it’s raw, honest and clearly showcases the best of their talents as a well-oiled live unit.
Lookout Low is available now. Twin Peaks are on tour in the UK and Europe in October.
Words by Holly Patrick