Twin Peaks Clean Up Their Sound (If Not Their Act) on New Album ‘Down in Heaven’
The third LP from the Chicago outfit is their mellowest, poppiest set yet
Chicago scuzz-mongers Twin Peaks have always been heavily indebted to the ’60s — their second album, 2014’s Wild Onion, even referenced the Beach Boys in title and artwork — but with their upcoming third album, Down in Heaven, out May 13 on Grand Jury, they’ve narrowed their focus to one year in particular: 1968. “I’ve been particularly drawn to records that have a more personal feel,” singer-guitarist Cadien James explains in the album’s press material. “Not necessarily lyrically, but in sonic aesthetic, like the Kinks’ Village Green Society, Beatles’ White Album, and Rolling Stones’ Beggar’s Banquet.” All three of those albums were ’68 releases, and indeed, much of Down in Heaven shares the sort of intimate, calmer, morning-after feel of those records — the hangover after the Summer of Love.
It’s not just the most canonized acts of the late ’60s that Twin Peaks are pulling from this time out, either: Down in Heaven also pays equal tribute to the AM side of the dial. The laconic balladry and loping melody of “Wanted You” is strikingly reminiscent of the Troggs’ “Love Is All Around.” The lyrics to “Butterfly” reference “when the Zombies started singing ‘bout the season.” And with its playfully swinging rhythms and virally infectious ba-da-ba’s on the chorus, “My Boys” could practically double as an alternate Monkees theme. But despite being the band’s poppiest album, it’s still their most serene, eschewing the T-shirt-ripping carnage of Wild Onion screamers “Flavor” or “I Found a New Way” for songs more measured and polished.
The most obvious narrative thread to pull from Heaven is that it’s the band’s “mature” album. But Twin Peaks are hesitant to use the m-word too quickly. “I guess that’s the take that a lot of the press around it might take,” James allows. “I think it’s our best album so far…. We felt like it wasn’t rushed, so if that feels more mature, then yeah.” (Just in case, the band wards off potential criticisms of chin-stroking stodginess with obviously irresponsible lyrics like “You oughta get yourself a shiny gold medal for being the coldest bitch I know,” from “Cold Lips”).
If not more mature, the set is definitely more professional. There’s little of either the lo-fi bristle or the psychedelic acid-wash heard on the group’s first two albums — it’s easily the cleanest Twin Peaks record yet, courtesy of veteran mixer John Agnello, whose previous work with laid-back indie shredders Kurt Vile and Dinosaur Jr. made him a natural fit for the band. “By the second day, he knew what we were going for and he was able to pull it off,” guitarist Clay Frankel says of recording with Agnello. “He would make jokes, like, panning s**t left-to-right… We’d be like, ‘Oh, I like how you panned that part.’ He’s like ‘Yeah, I know what you f**king stoners want.'”
Twin Peaks recorded Down in Heaven over the course of a month last summer, at a friend’s house in Massachusetts. “It was kind of a joke at first. We were up there one time, like, ‘It would be so cool to record here, we should do that,’” remembers Frankel. “And it kind of just turned into like, ‘Alright, you guys can do it. Just buy your own food and beer.’” The other new presence in the recording of Down in Heaven was keyboardist Colin Croom, who officially became the band’s fifth member the previous winter. His organ and piano flourishes give the group’s sound new texture and depth, and help the now-quintet better approximate the Nixon-era Stones feel that clearly marks their current sonic ideal. “It’s hard to find someone who listens to so much of the same music, and at the same time is a very talented musician,” raves Frankel.
The band hopes that with Down in Heaven, they’re following in the footsteps of one of their favorite artists, one with a Twin Peaks connection of his own: the late David Bowie. “The thing with Bowie is that it’s like liking five different artists,” says James. “I think we’ve tried to establish that we can [change our identity like] that. Probably not as drastically as he does, but… don’t chain yourself down to anything.”