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Courtesy of Polyvinyl

April 20, 2016

TEST SPIN: Xiu Xiu — Plays the Music of Twin Peaks

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To all the trendy kids out there who still appreciate the darker side of things — all the goths who brightened their wardrobes after high-school but could never quite part with the misanthropy or thick eyeliner — it’s here, the fetish object which perfectly encapsulates your particular blend of angst and hipness. Released April 16 as a record-store day exclusive Xiu Xiu Plays the Music of Twin Peaks is a collector’s item for fans of Xiu Xiu, and fans of Twin Peaks, but most especially for that undoubtedly large intersection between the two sets.

Adding, in my mind, to the album’s mystical quality is the fact that I can’t for the life of me track it down. My hunt started with a trip down to Angry Mom, which ended in disappointment when I learned that the album had sold out. After this, I assumed that I would simply end up listening to it through Spotify, as I would any other album these days, but as of yet, it is not available on Spotify, iTunes or any other digital outlet. The cheapest copy I could find on Amazon was $40, which while not exactly an arm-and-a-leg, is twice as much as standard fare, and more than I’m willing to shell out at this point. Ultimately, in order to listen to the album I had to resort to listening to it on Youtube, where some of the more altruistic lucky dogs who scored a copy on Record Store Day have uploaded tracks. I think the last time I had to jump through so many hoops to hear a record was before streaming services were ubiquitous and I was a penniless middle-schooler whose laptop had a filtration system that made illegal downloading an impossibility.

The elusiveness of the album, though, matches its concentration of niche appeal. Of course when an experimental pop band — fronted by a man called by Pitchfork’s Brandon Stosuy “one of underground music’s consistently brilliant anomalies” — covers the iconic soundtrack of the most surrealist show ever to hit prime-time television — written and directed by a man who could fairly be called one of Hollywood’s “consistently brilliant anomalies” — the result is a bit of a talisman.

Though after three paragraphs I’m obviously of the opinion that the existence of Plays the Music of Twin Peaks as a concept and object is as worthy of writing as its actual contents, it happens to be the case that this record shines not only as a knick knack, but as a piece of music: one that seamlessly injects the ambient jazz of Angelo Badalamenti’s original soundtrack with noise-pop, shoegaze and industrial. Xiu Xiu seems as devoted to the source material as they are to making it their own.

Generally, the album is one of greater highs and lows than the original score. The ambient moments are easier to get lost in, and the crescendos are, if not grander, then at least louder and more textured. Where Badalamenti’s score strikes a somber gold in its reserve, keeping the listener, like the viewer of Twin Peaks, at a constant, sometimes ironic, distance, Xiu Xiu intensifies every emotion and constantly invites the listener in. Xiu Xiu opens the album, for example, by heightening the sense of danger on “Laura Palmer’s Theme” — a romantic piano number on the original score transformed here with a thudding drum-machine rhythm.

Much credit is owed to Xiu Xiu for their arrangement decisions. Plays the Music of Twin Peaks is not a remake of any of the three albums released over the years as official soundtracks to the series, but a tasteful arrangement of their choicest cuts. Hard-rock instrumental“Blue Frank/ Pink Room,” for example, is placed felicitously in the middle of of the album, piercing a lengthy bout of ambience, and providing a preamble for the ominous “Sycamore Tree”: a song with lyrics originally recorded by Jimmy Scott, rendered even more haunting here by Xiu Xiu frontman Jamie Stewart’s quivering take on the vocals.

The wisest arrangement decision of all, however, is the one that landed Xiu Xiu’s cover of the  show’s main theme, “Falling,” at the beginning of the album’s final quarter: a placement that makes all of the near-hour of foregoing music feel like mere psychological build up for the ecstasy of the track. Xiu Xiu’s version of “Falling” is everything I could hope for. In play are all of those thing that make Plays the Music of Twin Peaks a success: emotion intensified by a drum-machine, and a thick collage of instrumentation, including at not one, but two different points a glorious, shoegaze, guitar breakdown. But what really makes the track so satisfying are Stewart’s vocals: an update on Julee Cruise’s from the original score, and another example of somber distance being traded out for emotional directness. “Don’t let yourself be hurt this time,” repeats Stewart in a whisper, and it’s the most vulnerable thing I’ve heard on a song all year, contrasted shortly after by the full-bodied baritone with which he sings the chorus. After “Falling,” the album winds down with a creepy denouement. The final track is a deeply unsettling monologue from the perspective of Laura Palmer, about nightmares, BDSM and a demonic figure name “Bob,” more explicit than anything that ever appeared on the show itself. Even in this darkness, however, you can still feel the glow.

Matt Pegan is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at mpegan@cornellsun.com.

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