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Twin Peaks’ Score Is As Alluring As Ever In 2016

It’s been 26 years since David Lynch’s bizarre mystery drama Twin Peaks premiered on ABC, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at today’s thriving fandom. In the decades since the show ended after only two seasons, it’s enjoyed a nearly uninterrupted resurgence. You can find plenty of Twin Peaks–inspired clothing, art, and Log Lady air fresheners on Etsy, and next year the show will return as a Showtime (Movie Network here in Canada) miniseries, complete with the original cast and Lynch in the director’s chair.

The Twin Peaks soundtrack, which is being reissued this fall on 180-gram “damn fine coffee”–coloured vinyl by a boutique label based in Austin, Texas, is the latest product to capitalize on the show’s cult revival. First released in 1990, the score earned composer Angelo Badalamenti a Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental Performance. It was Badalamenti’s second major collaboration with Lynch, after the music for his 1986 feature Blue Velvet; the This Mortal Coil–inspired dream pop sound of that movie’s “Mysteries of Love,” sung by Julee Cruise, laid the groundwork for the music the pair would create for Twin Peaks.

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Even in its initial release, the Twin Peaks score had the feel of eerie timelessness that has led to its enduring allure. Lynch is known for taking sweet 1960s pop music and draining it of its sugary, plastic innocence, something he does most directly in movies like Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive. The Twin Peaks score works in a similar way, using clearly identifiable motifs—the ’50s lounge music sound of “Audrey’s Dance” and “Dance of the Dream Man,” or the twangy spaghetti-Western vibe of “Twin Peaks Theme” and “The Nightingale”—and uniting them with cold, ambient, modern synths and Cruise’s whispery New Age voice.Twin Peaks could be as goofy as it was terrifying, and the score on record plays the same way: One minute you’ll get the cartoonish, film-noir jazz of “Freshly Squeezed,” the perfect track for an amateur crime scene investigation, and then the scary, droning jazz of “Night Life in Twin Peaks” the next. The result is unsettling. Badalamenti’s soundtrack is trapped between darkness and light, as if in some sonic purgatory that can only struggle to reach either plane.

The sound of Twin Peaks, and the broader idea of “Lynchian” music and its vintage darkness, has inspired countless artists in recent years. Singers like Sky Ferreira (who named her debut album, Night Time, My Time, after a quote from Twin Peaks murder victim Laura Palmer), Lana del Rey, and Chromatics’ Ruth Radelet have replicated the creepy, monotone ’60s crooner sound and aesthetic of Cruise’s Twin Peaks performance. Frank Ocean, who counts David Lynch as one of his favourite filmmakers, filled his recent albums Blonde and Endless with dreamy, ambient textures (“In Here Somewhere,” “White Ferrari”) that call to mind the aura of Twin Peaks. “Twin peaking, highs and lows, we shaded off, they know,” Ocean sings on “Rushes.”

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But if the sound of Twin Peaks feels familiar or perhaps even predictable in 2016, the original remains remarkably groundbreaking within the realm of modern television soundtracks. For the past decade or so, it’s been rare for TV shows to have captivating original music. Dramas of the ’00s like Mad Men, The Sopranos, and even The O.C. are more memorable for their diverse pop music supervision than original scores. Orange Is the New Black or The Affair got established artists Regina Spektor and Fiona Apple, respectively, to sing over their opening credits, rather than making an instrumental composer the star. (A counter-trend has emerged more recently: Hannibal, House of Cards, and this year’s hit Stranger Things have all confirmed that a fantastic score can go a long way, particularly for a show intended to give you the creeps.)

Twin Peaks takes place in a universe of simple pleasures: diary-keeping, diner pie, tape-recorded memos to Diane. The fictional Pacific Northwest town where the show takes place is a vacuum for both superficial sweetness and its underlying evil, and the viewer, like Agent Dale Cooper, starts out as a skeptical outsider to its charms. That’s why it needs an immersive, distinctive score to ground and reinforce its tone, not something that pulls you out with distracting musical references. While Captain Beefheart might pair well with Rust Cohle’s insane work in True Detective, for Cooper the simple strum of a bass guitar over lush keyboards is more than enough. And because Badalamenti’s score permeates every inch of Twin Peaks, coding landmarks and characters in their own personal themes, the music alone is enough to recall moments of the show. Even without a new series on the way, the Twin Peaks score would live on, because the life of the show is vividly fixed in each note.

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