This story is over 5 years old.


Hey Musicians, You're Ruining the Twin Peaks Legacy

Twin Peaks created an atmospheric blueprint for everything from dubstep to black metal, but it also influenced Bastille and turned into a whimsical in-joke between coffee enthusiasts.
Emma Garland
London, GB

There’s a definitive romanticism to Twin Peaks; a very specific aesthetic attraction that has managed to withstand the test of time and seduce anybody who watches it into an “Everything Was Lynchian and Nothing Hurt” state of mind. With so many defining characteristics and rife-for-reference moments, the strange imagination of Twin Peaks is something that lends itself very easily to obsession. So, when creators David Lynch and Mark Frost announced after years of rumours that “that gum you like is going to come back in style”, the dynamics of the world completely shifted. Everything was eclipsed by the fact Twin Peaks would be returning for a third series in 2016.


There’s something to be said for a TV show being able to maintain such a strong, widespread cultural relevance when it’s rooted heavily in the dynamics of an all-American town and only ran for 30 episodes two decades ago. Landing somewhere between a soap opera and surrealistic neo-noir, Twin Peaks is like Murder She Wrote for people who tweet sincerely about the moon. Every single character (except James) is someone you want to hang out with IRL, the wardrobe is pornography for fashion bloggers, and the soundtrack stirs a level of excitement tantamount to foreplay. Despite the fact the opening sequence is two and a half minutes of things happening to logs, I don’t believe anybody has ever skipped a second of it, because the main theme has to be one of the most satisfying musical arrangements in the history of musical arrangements. The progression of the first four notes alone is like having your back cracked while you pop an entire sheet of bubble wrap and watch Joffrey Baratheon die.

The Twin Peaks score, composed by Angelo Badalamenti, is as much of a work of art as Twin Peaks itself. Manoeuvring territories of drone, dark ambient, doom, down-tempo and jazz - sometimes within the same song - the score provides the atmosphere that fills in the unspoken parts of the plot. Trying to box it into one genre makes as much sense as putting a fish in a percolator, but the one thing that remains consistent is its pervasive ambience and ability to connect with people. In the same way Burial has a very cold, solitary mood that is directly linked to “London” but also meaningful in a larger sense, the Twin Peaks score lifts the show out of the dense woods and sparsely populated towns of North America to reach people on more common ground. Whether it’s the soft acoustics of Mount Eerie, the slow moving depression of Grouper, or the completely pants-soiling darkness of Wolves In The Throne Room, the way they all connect to a particular atmosphere is something Badalamenti helped create a blueprint for. Not bad for something that was composed on a beat-up Fender Rhodes.


But, like the characters, the musical influence of Twin Peaks has two sides. Although it has an aesthetic influence that reaches from dubstep to black metal, it is also responsible for some of the worst lyrics, song titles, band names and merch designs in existence. Owls, donuts, cherry pie and coffee are just a few things that, after 1991, were considered to be the cultural property of Twin Peaks. Coffee would never be “coffee” ever again, it would be “damn fine coffee” – a symbol representing all things Dale Cooper, an element of fictional folklore to be passed on by pop culture, a bible that doubles up as a drink. The endearing way in which Lynch and Frost drew the surreal out of the mundane is probably the show’s greatest strength, but unfortunately that also means it resonates with every motherfucker who has Instagrammed a café au lait.

The curse of Twin Peaks is that basically anyone who watches it falls in love with it instantly and wants to be the one to let the world know it exists, which is exactly how Twin Peaks wants you to feel. You’re supposed to feel like a stranger peeping through a hole in the fence surrounding a community that’s totally detached from the outside world, you’re supposed to feel like you shouldn’t really be watching, and you’re supposed to feel like you’re the only one who is. Couple that with a very modern need to define ourselves by all our favourite things, and you end up with hundreds of artists talking about how they totally know how Laura Palmer felt and would someone please open the red drapes to their soul which is wrapped in plastic and made of pie.


Not all Twin Peaks references are unanimously bad: Nicholas Jaar and Mount Eerie both found ways to incorporate the soundtrack into their arrangements without succumbing to clichés or direct worship, EL-P and DJ Shadow have sampled lines of dialogue in a way that neatly bookends a track, and Sky Ferreira’s dreamy masterpiece “Night Time, My Time” owes much of its lyrical content to Fire Walk With Me. But at some point the relentless referencing and callbacks stop being creative and end up feeling like a list of things somebody knows about. I can’t actually believe it took until 2014 for this to happen, but we have finally reached a stage where a band has thrown their hands up and said you know what, fuck it, let’s just skip over the part where we desperately try to find an unused reference and just call the whole project “Twin Peaks”. I mean, even fucking Bastille have a song called “Laura Palmer”. If that isn’t indicative of a phenomenon exhausted, I don’t know what is. I can’t wait for 2016 to roll around so at least there will be more things to reference the shit out of.

Still, the fact that these knowing nods are coming from so many different musical directions is testament not just to the wide reach of the show’s aesthetic influence, but to the strength of it’s own soundtrack. Angelo Badalamenti took universal themes of darkness, death, despair and violence and executed them perfectly. It almost seems a shame to reduce that to the kind of in-jokes you’d find on the lunch menu of a whimsical café.

Follow Emma on Twitter: @emmaggarland