Soundtrack from Twin Peaks
Warner Bros. – 1990
Angelo Badalamenti’s soundtrack to David Lynch’s groundbreaking television drama is every bit as mysterious and alluring as the show itself; arriving alongside the first wave of “dream pop,” it would prove to be a critical influence on three decades of music to follow.
As a cultural touchstone, the early nineties hit Twin Peaks crosses generations and finds itself in the hands of younger audiences, giving it its true worshippers. While the show was an overnight success, over the years it has gained a cult following that kept the dream alive. David Lynch and Mark Frost’s original series was one of the most memorable shows to hit the airwaves; one that directly challenged the state of TV in the 80s.
On the outside, Twin Peaks is an amalgamation of American culture, combining soap operas with murder mystery, drawing from 1950s notions of the perfect close-knit town where everybody knew everybody. The interior is much more sinister, with themes of sexual assault, drugs, and the evil that resides in all of us, acting as a foil where the viewers must take the yin with the yang. Putting analysis of the show aside, Twin Peaks feels nostalgic even for those who didn’t grow up around the series. Each episode is highly quotable, and you can’t help but fall for the characters (yes, even James). The soundtrack to the first season is no different, in that it captures the feel of the show and translates it into its own timeless piece.
Like any of his projects, David Lynch can be immediately identified as the man behind the curtains of the operation. With Soundtrack from Twin Peaks’ companion piece, Floating Into the Night – recorded and released in 1989 by Julee Cruise – Lynch directed the music of the album and penned all of the lyrics that gave clues to the meaning of the show. That’s not to say Angelo Badalamenti did not play a role, but Lynch’s brain came up with the brilliant ideas of creating dissonant sections as a way to convey emotion and make the pay off even more satisfying. Soundtrack from Twin Peaks feels absolutely unique in its construction that shines as a collaborative piece between musicians and artists. Forgetting A Hard Day’s Night, Twin Peaks shines as not being a compilation of songs like Pulp Fiction or a straight soundtrack like Casablanca, but as a work that feels like an album rather than a soundtrack. The songs on the soundtrack are masterfully crafted and beg to be listened to again and again.
The album opens with the famous “Twin Peaks Theme,” a beautiful instrumental version that sings on its own, even without Julee Cruise’s vocals. Lynch’s production and Badalamenti’s writing created the perfect theme song that doesn’t come across as trite. “Twin Peaks Theme” masterfully blends 1950s doo-wop with jazz and soundtrack elements, carving out a new genre in the process. While dream pop had been kicking around with the likes of Cocteau Twins well back into the 1980s, David Lynch’s vision for Soundtrack from Twin Peaks carved its own path in the genre, even taking on some vaporwave aesthetics. Grady Tate’s effortless drumming, paired with Badalamenti’s jazz chords on an electric piano, soothes the listener as if they are listening to some sort of twisted lullaby. The soft washing of the ride cymbal makes it sound like the listener is surrounded by the hiss of White Tail Falls by the Great Northern Hotel. Kinny Landrum’s addition of the twangy 8-bit guitar sample wraps the song up into the perfect pop package. “Twin Peaks Theme” holds a special magic to it – as does the rest of the album – that allows the track to be five minutes long, while still leaving the listener wanting more.
What is so endearing about the album is how musical themes and motifs turn up in each song in such a unique way. “Audrey’s Dance” is essentially a reworked version of “Laura Palmer’s Theme,” with the “Freshly Squeezed” bass line under it – which is so clever on Lynch and Badalamenti’s part. For me, “Audrey’s Dance” took a few listens to get into the groove of it, but it never failed to interest me with its use of dissonance in its poppy-but-jazzy structure. Being a reworked version of “Laura Palmer’s Theme,” “Audrey’s Dance” can be insightful in understanding the character behind the song. By using the track in reading into Audrey’s story, the reader can infer that there is a spiritual tie between her and Laura, both in personality and how their fates are sealed. “Dance of the Dream Man” plays off of “Freshly Squeezed” in its own way and ties the motif of “Audrey’s Dance” at the end, keeping the song from feeling boring. “The Bookhouse Boys” is a testament to Lynch and Badalamenti’s genius, reflecting the more mysterious elements of the show. It creates harmonious dissonance out of the show’s motifs, making a completely original track in the process.
The album has a few duds however. “Night Life in Twin Peaks” and “Love Theme from Twin Peaks” feel lacking in the overall creativity from the album, but it’s a lot to expect from a soundtrack. The two songs are purely for soundtrack needs, and ultimately serve their purpose. However, in my personal opinion, Soundtrack from Twin Peaks is missing “Rocking Back Inside My Heart”; but then again not much would differentiate it from Floating Into the Night.
To me, Soundtrack From Twin Peaks captures a special time in my life. The show was there for me at the right time, and has permanently become a part of me. It captures all of the first season’s iconic moments of mystery, love, and pain. When I hear “Freshly Squeezed,” I can see Audrey Horne sauntering through the dining hall to flirt with the new FBI agent in town. When I hear “The Nightingale,” I can see the Bookhouse Boys sitting in the Roadhouse, watching Julee Cruise serenade the bar before a brawl breaks out. When I hear the “Twin Peaks Theme,” I can see myself falling in love as I fell in love with the show. There’s truly nothing like this album that I’ve come across, in its mixing of a soundtrack with dream pop and jazz bops into such a cohesive work. Soundtrack from Twin Peaks is a perfectly curated album that is as perfect as the iconic show itself.