Since rising up from the underground, Chicago’s Twin Peaks have continued to prove themselves time and again to be a band to watch. From their show-stealing mid-afternoon performance at the 2014 Pitchfork Music Festival to their wildly impressive full length debut, Wild Onion, released later that summer Twin Peaks have been operating at the top of their game. Given the rapid nature of both their rise in profile and artistic progression, one would be easily forgiven expecting their follow up to suffer from the dreaded sophomore slump. That they manage to not only avoid this but continue to defy expectations helps make them one of the more compelling groups currently kicking around the Midwest.
While not a strict departure from the previous releases, Down in Heaven certainly represents a more refined focus for the band. Where before they borrowed elements from a number of scruffy indie rock touchstones, here they fully immerse themselves in a mid-‘60s aesthetic that ultimately serves them quite well. By stripping away several of the layers of grit and grime that coated Wild Onion, Twin Peaks have allowed the songs themselves to shine through much more so than before. And what songs they are. Opening track “Walk to the One You Love” finds the group augmenting their standard rock lineup with chamber pop piano and subtle horns, backing a near-perfect hook. It’s a powerfully realized opening statement that helps set the tone for much of the rest of the album.
Were it not for a few tell-tale signs throughout (a few “fucks” and production tricks here and there), much of Down in Heaven could easily pass for a collection of cuts from some forgotten Pebbles-style compilation. Maintaining more of a mid-tempo feel throughout that oscillates back and forth between garage-psych (the gorgeous “Lolisa”) and full-on Stones worship (“Cold Lips” and “Keep It Together,” among others). In this, theirs is a studied approach that places them in the upper echelon of retro-revivalists, picking up where Girls left off. At times they sound as though they stumbled upon a collection of unused tracks from that dearly-departed group. “Wanted You” in particular sounds like an unholy cross between Album at its best and Mick Jagger at his most unhinged.
Indeed, it’s guitarist Clay Frankel’s rough-hewn sneer that helps further the Stones’ comparisons, both in phrasing and tonality, as well as affording the music an air of ‘60s authenticity. Particularly on Heaven’s second single, “Butterfly,” does Frankel’s lead, coupled with the droning organ and syncopated “bah-bah-bahs,” sound transported in from a much earlier era. And while garage rock groups have been taking this approach to ‘60s revivalism very nearly since the original era ended, few manage to do so as effortlessly and tunefully as Twin Peaks. Not only that, but they still manage to do so within the traditional singles parameter of 3:30 minutes or less.
By vacillating back and forth between the lighter elements of Cadien James and Jack Dolan’s lead contributions and Frankel’s acidic sneer, Down in Heaven often feels like the work of two distinct bands. Wild Onion was plagued by a similar sort of duality, yet both albums manage to add up to a satisfying whole. Here, however, they expand their palette by incorporating a broader range of instrumentation to help offset some of these previous shortcomings. On “Cold Lips” in particular, the guitars are largely buried in favor of a lead line granted to a simmering organ. It’s here that they fully and unabashedly embrace their inner Stones circa-Beggars Banquet, all rock and roll swagger and fuckall attitude. It’s an uncanny impression (check Frankel’s Jagger-esque falsetto on the middle eight) that, by both song and album’s end, has the listener revisiting the Stones’ catalog from Beggars to Exile on Main Street.
Less immediate than Wild Onion, Down in Heaven takes time to get in to. But a full immersion proves a wholly worthwhile experience. Having slowed things down, adapted to the rural setting in which the album was recorded and turned in a set of laid back, throwback rock and roll, Twin Peaks have established themselves as a band on the rise. Should they continue at their current rate they may well find their names mentioned time and again in the same breath as (depending on who you ask) the greatest rock and roll band of all time. And while that may well sound hyperbolic, a quick comparison between the two (dig “Keep It Together” and its unmitigated, snarling arrogance and bluesy horns) will show Twin Peaks slowly bridging the gap between being simply great and truly transcendent.
Artist: Twin Peaks
Album: Down In Heaven
Label: Grand Jury
Release Date: May 13, 2016