Xiu Xiu Plays the Music of Twin Peaks

[Polyvinyl; 2016]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: Netflix Nostalgia, Ensemble Music for Galleries, the Ambivalent Space Between Heartbreak and Ragey Serial Killer Lyrics
Others: Angelo Badamenti, Swans, Perfume Genius

Record Store Day seems to come and go these days with a whirlwind of shit you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone to care about. The All-American Rejects’ Move Along on vinyl? A Disturbed picture disc? Logic’s Incredible True Story? With more and more releases flooding shelves everywhere (not to mention leaving pressing plants with insane backups), the annual event mostly feels like a cheap routine for major labels to cash in on the now-flattened novelty of the vinyl record. Without getting too much into the politics of it all, one thing that stood out against the noise was that finally we’d see the proper release of Xiu Xiu Plays the Music of Twin Peaks. Originally commissioned by Australia’s Gallery of Modern Art, Jamie Stewart and co. have spent the last few months reworking tracks from Angelo Badamenti’s 11-track OST, rivaling Badamenti’s synths with the unmatched intimacy of the pedaled piano. Following the exhibit, the band performed the album in full before L.A.’s Hollywood Forever Cemetery, London’s Saint John-at-Hackney church, and New York’s Kitchen artspace. Now with an exclusive Record Store Day release, the LP walks a strange line between a proper instrumental Xiu Xiu full-length and a RSD novelty release.

The album begins with “Laura Palmer’s Theme,” an impeccably close adaptation of Badalamenti’s composition, now performed on solo piano with a soft, delicate delay that adds to the track’s menace. Indeed, where Badalamenti’s original is overwhelmingly synth-heavy — and Xiu Xiu’s certainly used their share of menacing synths in the past — the album largely opts for warmth, with chimes and upright pianos rattling through the mix, layering on delays and reverbs that heighten the mood. The jazz-inspired “Audrey’s Dance” gets filtered through a number of granular and analog synths, blasted with thick distortion into a spectral haze of plucked arpeggiators and swung jazz rhythm. “Blue Frank/Pink Room” leans in on the heavier, distortion-driven Xiu Xiu, moving from noise into massive No Wave solos, while “Sycamore Tree” is a tender blues ballad, stretched passed all sanity in a rupture for piano and voice. The oscillation between sincere tenderness and thundering rage that so often dominates the music of Xiu Xiu is still immeasurably present; being both without vocals and largely an acoustic venture, the album swells with a Beethoven-like madness that, like much of David Lynch’s cinema, is simultaneously campy and cinematic, a pull between deviance and rhapsody.

In detaching from Stewart’s voice, Xiu Xiu Plays the Music of Twin Peaks gets around a lot of the misanthropic lyrical machismo that has come to define the band on past releases. Noise tracks like “Blue Frank/Pink Room” that would normally flail about in aggressive lyrics of assault and domestic violence here fare much better as instrumentals, beyond the sorts of pseudo-serial-killer vibes that radiate through a lot of earlier Xiu Xiu releases. At the same time, the presence of the band itself is fundamentally built on this eerie, unwavering space of rage and heartbreak, and without lyrics, there’s a distinct void left in the space where a human voice once was.

Xiu Xiu Plays the Music of Twin Peaks is a dense album that seems at its best when it sticks to Badalamenti’s template, filling up nostalgia for the show with acoustic intimacy and emotional affect. The band plays up the sincerity of noisier elements too, almost literally answering questions as to What It Means to Make a Xiu Xiu album largely Without Words in theatrics alone. But in the few moments of softness from the original, the album really does something special. When the noise hits, when the piano keys fall just right, the record crashes with an undeniable beauty that punches back with all the weight of the TV show — the horror and humor and frustrating sexual tension of it all, now wrapped up into a few pedaled piano lines and crushing noise loops that bleed from every pore. As Lynch gears up to relaunch Twin Peaks in 2017, we can only hope they at least partially embrace Stewart’s renditions in some form or another.

Links: Xiu Xiu - Polyvinyl

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