by Chris Hatch
Chicago’s Twin Peaks have long been purveyors of sepia-hued, classic Americana. From the raucous garage rock of their first couple of records, to the ever-so-slightly mellower shuffle of 2016’s Down In Heaven, the five-piece have worn their 60’s/70’s influences proudly on their sleeve. Latest release, Lookout Low, follows in similar fashion, but sees the band bring a forward-facing freshness to their otherwise nostalgic sound
Before decamping to Wales to record the album, Twin Peaks came up with a new mantra – rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. Spending countless hours writing, practising, re-writing, and practising again, the band had more opportunity to experiment, to take each other’s ideas and run with them, often finding themselves in territories new. By the time the band left to record with Ethan Johns at Monrow Valley Studios, the set of songs that would make up Lookout Low had been refined and rehearsed to the point of near-perfection.
Twin Peaks have a reputation as a formidable live act, so the decision for Johns (a producer who cuts the majority of stuff live) to take the reins seemed like a logical one. This isn’t, however, a facsimile of Twin Peaks’ riotous live sound – the amps aren’t all turned up to eleven, and the vocals aren’t all snarly and upfront – what Johns has managed to capture is just how technically brilliant Twin Peaks are as musicians. There isn’t a single piano riff or guitar fill that isn’t perfectly played and expertly placed.
The combined effect of their intense, pre-studio prep, and Johns’ production mastery is a record that is the most expansive and all-encompassing the band have ever released. Taking the classic rock of The E Street Band, beefing it up with the bluesy gospel of mid-era Stones, and then softening the edges with a subtle, soulful hint of Motown – Lookout Low is as mature and diverse an album as anything Twin Peaks have put to record so far.
For all their new found adventuring, one of the most impressive facets of the record is just how cohesive the band sound – having started out as childhood friends, Twin Peaks have always had an obvious connection, and – over the course of their previous albums – they’ve never been precious about songwriting responsibilities (four out of the five each sing lead vocals on at least one track on the album) – but it’s on Lookout Low that it feels most like the band have a single voice – each song blending from one to the next in the smoothest of gear changes.
In terms of highlights, there are many – the title track trades bittersweet verses for a defiantly joyous chorus that grins from ear-to-ear, while album closer Sunken II sparkles away in a meditative open-endedness that sees Twin Peaks at their most contemplative. But it’s on the two lead singles that the biggest leaps can be heard – Dance Through It’s woody percussion two-steps away under Jack Dolan’s elastic bass line, before the whole thing morphs from taut, late-night funk into a deliriously soulful horn section outro, while the piano-led Ferry Song sways along with the kind of breezy, effortlessness that bands spend a lifetime trying to master, and with the help of backing vocals from fellow Chicagoans, OHMME, it’s undoubtedly the album’s highlight.
Lookout Low is a thrift shop find of an album: the kind of thing you’d unearth from your parents’ record collection, brush the dust off, and become obsessed with. It’s an album that takes the best parts of classic 70’s songwriting and adds a shot of vibrancy and soul that makes it an utterly relevant release. In short, it’s their best album yet.
Secret Meeting score: 87