“I’m gonna go over and say ‘hi.’”
Donna approaches the bar with her arms stretched back.
Audrey runs a finger along the rim of her coffee cup and Angelo Badalamenti’s mystery pop pours from the jukebox in the corner of the RR Diner, Twin Peaks. The eccentric makeup of the score permeates the scene, wrapping itself in the vintage 80s café decor, the presence of the actresses, and the kookiness of the log lady spitting out her gum, or is it resin? With its steady bass and percussive finger-clicking, “Audrey’s Dance” completely engulfs the setting — the song becomes entwined in a fragile moment that melts a seal across the characters’ relationship.
“I don’t know if [the songs] are haunted, but sometimes I just feel trapped in a certain image, or state, and the song should be developed in order to continue life.”
That’s Lucrecia Dalt speaking to Adam Harper about her sophomore offering, Commotus. The conversation comes in the form of an essay, which Harper uses as a vessel to dwell on apocalyptic themes he pulls from the cover art. The picture in question frames a shot of the 1935 Texas Dust Bowl as some ferocious storm clouds rise above a farmhouse. Naturally, doom-laden association is beckoned by the image, but the interviewer drives at end-times as though they were symbolic to the music itself, which seems to glaze over the sonic layers of quirkiness and mischief that come nestled among feelings of trepidation and wonder. I like to think of Commotus as a soundtrack to the aftermath, where the dust has settled and people are beginning to evaluate livelihoods left behind: the reintroduction of routine to an exclusion zone.
In addition, traces of Badalamenti’s delicate chords are audible in Dalt’s work. They linger most glaringly on songs such as “Silencio,” which features a bassline that follows “Freshly Squeezed” into an Aladdin’s cave of idiosyncrasy — in the case of the former, that manifests in creepy accordion keys; in the latter, handfuls of lascivious xylophonica. The rest of Commotus takes place somewhere in between those spaces, where Special Agent Dale Cooper unravels the murder mystery of a misunderstood youth in the city of Pripyat. Each track constructs a set of its very own that marries beauty and eeriness amid flawless harmonies and undaunted bass action, where mood is not so much as created, but rigorously etched onto an aerial slate like Spirograph graffiti on a wafer-thin tablet. This is a wispy adjustment for Dalt, who has vacated the sound of her debut from cautious electronic pop to a quarter that allows the dexterity of her songwriting to bloom among the cracks of her contemporaries. “Saltación” beautifully redefines Holly Herndon’s experiments with exhalation, while Julia Holter’s esprit emanates across a number of tracks, not only on the aforementioned “Silencio” where Holter guests on harmonium, but on the nervous hum of “Do I Dare Disturb Your Dreams” and the paint-isle ambivalence of “Batholith.”
Wherever those influences stem from, the album is fascinating because its most cherished, spectral qualities are permitted to mingle with a textured friskiness, where the radiant sensuality of “Conversa” is balanced alongside the jarring ploy of “Multitud” and where the echoed finger clicking of “Esplendor” is accompanied by a generous helping of vocal purr. Dalt’s voice sounds remarkable, by the way, particularly when pressing her darkest lyrics: “I’ve been doing deals with the devil,” she confides over the subtle percussion underlay of “Turmoil.” “Yeah, I’ve been doing business with the devil.” Such moments amplify the Twin Peaks fixation somehow, that genial dicing of fine-spun skylarkery with outright horror, a portly fellow grooving down a school corridor and the announcement of Laura Palmer’s death on the principal’s PA system. Any feelings of warmth or comfort are kept at bay by the creepiness of what the material substantiates; it’s a difficult feat, but one that Dalt has achieved impeccably well. Commotus is an accomplished release that leads not towards a path of apocalyptic strife, but to a place both wonderful and strange.