Sound plays an undeniably crucial role in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: The Return. It’s kind of his thing. Going back as far as 1977, which saw the release of Lynch’s first feature, Eraserhead, you can see the careful way he used what would become his signature creeping atmospheric hum, sizzle, and hiss to build a mood that would be terrifying regardless of what’s going on in the shot. For Lynch’s earlier works, including the original two seasons of Twin Peaks (1990 – 1991), he focused primarily on instrumental numbers by long-time collaborator Angelo Badalamenti, with the occasional lyrical song thrown in by artists like Julee Cruise, Lynch himself, or a licensed favorite from the ’50s and ’60s.
It wasn’t until the release of 1997’s Lost Highway that Lynch began to turn to more modern music in his films, and he did so with a bang, recruiting Trent Reznor — you know, from “The” Nine Inch Nails — to produce the film’s soundtrack. It’s specifically Lost Highway that afforded us the opportunity to watch a kinky sex situation set to Rammstein, the experience of which prepared us best for what would follow 20 years later with the limited Showtime series, Twin Peaks: The Return. Lynch’s choice to have “The” Nine Inch Nails perform “She’s Gone Away” at The Roadhouse in “Part Eight” before launching into the meat of the Twin Peaks good vs. evil origin story is monumentally perfect. The plot of The Return more or less focused on how time is a circle in Twin Peaks, and Lynch’s tastes, influences, and ability to match dark moments with the perfect dark sounds shows all throughout The Return, providing a map for our ears to go along with the map for our eyeballs. A perfect marriage of two huge elements in the telling of one huge story.
The world of Twin Peaks comes with a lap full of reference materials, from corollary books to accompanying soundtracks. Not surprisingly, there are “clues” to be found all throughout these supplements; that is, if you’re in the market for clues. If not, they’re a good way to revisit the series any time you want with just a flick of the finger or a press of a button. After all, the woods of Twin Peaks are hard to leave. There’s always something calling us back for further exploration. Now that The Return has come to an end, Rhino Records has released two soundtrack albums to add to the pile, one features a score of moody Lynchian ambiance, and the other is a more standard soundtrack from the season which includes tracks performed at The Roadhouse by the likes of Chromatics, Sharon Van Etten, Rebekah Del Rio, Nine Inch Nails, and Eddie Vedder. In a recent interview with The New York Times, Lynch, who was credited as the Sound Designer for The Return, says that “cinema is sound and picture, flowing together in time,” a beautiful way to soak in the 18 “parts” of The Return, which he created more as a movie than a TV show, and which uses music as another tool to carve out a richer understanding of what he’s going for here.
Starting with the instrumental-heavy soundtrack, Angelo Badalamenti and Dean Hurley, who Lynch has partnered with over the years on his own albums like 2011’s Crazy Clown Time and 2013’s The Big Dream, do what they do best: lay down a mood as easy as a person would lay down a throw rug. Badalamenti breathes new life into familiar tracks like the Twin Peaks theme, “Falling”, and “Audrey’s Dance”, while introducing new staples such as “The Chair” and “The Fireman”, both of which are tied to very specific situations in The Return. “The Chair” comes from “Part Nine” where Betty Briggs (Charlotte Stewart), gives her son Bobby (Dana Ashbrook) a secret scroll of information from his father Garland (Don S. Davis) that had been hidden in an easy chair in the Briggs’ living room since his father’s mysterious passing. “The Fireman” comes from “Part Eight” , where we see the person we previously knew as The Giant (Carel Struycken) release the good essence of Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) into Twin Peaks to combat the evilness of BOB (Frank Silva) and his cohorts. Both tracks are sombre and emotional, sweeping from tragedy to hope and back again.
A non-instrumental, and highlight of the album, Muddy Magnolias’ “American Woman (David Lynch Remix)” is used a few times in The Return, most notably when we meet Evil Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) for the first time, driving down a dark stretch of road in “Part Two”, and prior to Diane (Laura Dern) exposing herself as a “tulpa” in “Part 16”. Warped and slowed, like a thudding dream, this is Lynch’s new anthem for dark happenings on the horizon. Johnny Jewel, driving force behind Chromatics, a band which you could very well call the new house band of The Roadhouse, shows up on the score as well to add two instrumental tracks to the Badalamenti/Hurley heavy mix. “Saturday”, an instrumental of the Desire song covered here by the Chromatics, and a reprised version of Jewel’s signature song, “Windswept”, both add more creepy newness to an otherwise extremely familiar soundscape.
The second soundtrack, featuring all of the tracks performed in The Roadhouse during The Return, showcases not only Lynch’s taste in music, but how heavily involved he was in every possible element of the new season. He didn’t just pick these bands and these songs, he orchestrated how he wanted them performed as well. As the story goes, all of The Roadhouse performances for The Return were shot in the same day with Trent Reznor, Chromatics, and Lynch’s own son Riley, shaking in the wings with everyone else waiting for their time on stage in front of Lynch’s watchful eye and trusty bullhorn. If you paid close attention during each of these performances, then you probably picked up on the fact that each song pretty much summarizes the feeling and subject matter of the “part” in which they were performed.
One of the best examples of this is Eddie Vedder’s “Out of Sand”, which was performed in “Part 16” following Cooper’s return to Cooper form, and his goodbye to his borrowed Jones family, and prior to Audrey doing her dance for one last time before returning to whatever hellscape/institution she’s trapped in. The lyrics “Can’t climb to heaven on the cross/ One liar’s promise drained the blood from my heart/ Came a message in the dark/ Offered the hand of a disembodied man/ While I still had the chance,” which start the song, tell the tale of Cooper continuing down his noble path, never quite reaching the end, and never quite reaching the home he was trying to get back to for so long. It brings tears to hear it, partially because it’s just a beautiful song, and partially because we can’t help but think of poor Cooper’s struggle as we listen. Elsewhere, Rebekah Del Rio, who Lynch worked with previously for Mulholland Drive, provides the gorgeous “No Stars”. Co-written by Lynch himself, the song is so achingly perfect, it’s like your heart is being scooped out with a melon baller every time you listen. This track comes from “Part 10”, an especially violent episode, where Richard Horne (Eamon Farren) continues to show the depths to which his wrath (and breeding) can take him.
What makes this particular soundtrack even more special than it would already be are the particular touches Lynch puts on previously existing tracks, such as his Roadhouse Mix of Sharon Van Etten’s “Tarifa” (from “Part Six”) and “Snake Eyes” (from “Part Five”), a song his son Riley performed alongside Hurley with his band Trouble prior to our first introduction to Richard Horne’s hateful grabby hands. The only bruise on the album is the inclusion of Julee Cruise’s “The World Spins”, which, although the track is one of her most emotionally evocative songs, comes with an awkward post-script. Following the airing of The Return’s finale, which included a brief performance (albeit too brief, according to her) of the song by Cruise, which should have seemed like a big moment but kind of felt hidden behind a plant. The singer took to social media to heat up long-standing bad blood between she and Lynch. In a thread on her personal Facebook page, she referred to Lynch’s post-production treatment of her performance of the song as a “slap in the face,” which makes it a little less dreamy to listen to now. Even so, the song’s still as gorgeous as ever.
When The Return first aired on May 21, 2017, we were told by The Fireman to “listen to the sounds.” The rustling leaves, buzzing power lines, and chittering from Diane trapped inside of her Naido flesh suit were a great place to start, but the soundtrack and score factor into this prompt, too. The Roadhouse (which some of you still insist on calling the Bang Bang Bar) is a catch-all for the town of Twin Peaks’ many characters, in all their varying terrors and eccentricities. These are their soundtracks, maybe more so than ours, and their stories live on in these songs and instrumentations. Twin Peaks is done. For now. But these two fantastic soundtracks will help us keep that weird world spinning. There’s always music in the air, remember?
Essential Tracks: Muddy Magnolias’ “American Woman (David Lynch Remix)”, Eddie Vedder’s “Out of Sand”, Johnny Jewel’s “Windswept (Reprise)”, and Rebekah Del Rio’s “No Stars”