Genre: Garage Rock, Jam Rock
Tracks: “Better Than Stoned,” “Dance Through It,” “Oh Mama”
It’s one of the worst kept secrets in music that jam bands have an outsized influence on rock music as we turn into another decade. It feels like a natural progression from music’s early-decade infatuation with Americana and bluegrass music for today’s trend-setters to dip their toes into the like of the Dead, Phish, and Dave Matthews, and the number of names on that list is honestly pretty overwhelming. The latter half of the decade has been full of big-name indie stars paying tribute to (and even collaborating with) the kind of artists that may have prompted an early Pitchfork writer to have laughed in your face if you admitted to enjoying their music; Bryce and Aaron Dessner, the twin musical minds behind the National, co-produced the DAY OF THE DEAD compilation in 2016, a collection that serves as a practical who’s who of 2010s indie rock, Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon has fought tooth and nail to revive the career of latter-period Dead sideman and piano master Bruce Hornsby, and recent records like Vampire Weekend’s FATHER OF THE BRIDE or Phosphorescent’s C’EST LA VIE are filled with less-than-subtle hints that their creators may have spent some time hacky sacking in their day. Heck, you’ve been able to hear those sounds from the beginning of groups like Parquet Courts and Unknown Mortal Orchestra.
Honestly, I thought this whole phenomenon had reached critical mass already. And then I heard Twin Peaks’ LOOKOUT LOW. The first thing you’ll read in Twin Peaks’ press kit is that they “gleefully embrace change,” and while there are certainly artists that would like to claim that association unjustly, Twin Peaks absolutely earn it—they’ve taken more sonic twists and turns over the course of four albums than some bands do in their entire careers. One thing that has run constant in their sound as they oscillate from slight country-ish leanings to garage pop and back and forth is an extremely strong sense of melody. A Twin Peaks song is almost always catchy as all get-out, but they seem to have deemphasized this for LOOKOUT LOW; the band is clearly trying to get more sonic value out of each instrument than normal, and that tone is mixed with a collectivist ideal typical to jam music, which isn’t as common a technique in their previous sphere.
LOOKOUT LOW is an extremely capable entry into more explicitly AMERICAN BEAUTY-esque fare for Twin Peaks. They sound very good playing this kind of music, and they play it very well. Tracks like album opener “Casey’s Groove,” “Better Than Stoned,” and “Ferry Song” are the bread and butter of this record, relying on acoustic-leaning instrumentation and lush harmonies that are certain to remind any listener of the Dead instantly. These songs would sound very much in place on most late-60s country-rock records, and there really isn’t an unsatisfying listen on this record.
It’s clear that the point of these songs are more about a feeling than lyrics, but that’s not to say there aren’t songs that do a good job of marrying the jam tradition with their past work, nor to say that Twin Peaks is trying to be a “jam band.” There are strong shades of Wilco in record closer “Sunken II,” which takes the record out in a much more subdued but still tonally consistent manner. “Lookout Low” in particular is a very fun modern interpolation of a Gram Parsons-type tune, sounding about as country-ish as you can without any traditional “country” instruments.
The question that lingers over this record after several listens is not necessarily whether it’s “good” or not. It is a well-crafted and listenable 42 minutes that makes for a solid soundtrack to a late-summer evening with a refreshing drink in hand. Ultimately though, it doesn’t really do enough to separate itself from its influences to make a lasting impact on its own. Twin Peaks continue to prove that they’re master chameleons and that they’re capable of challenging themselves to evolve in ways that most bands aren’t, but it’s hard to imagine this album reaching past the niches that they already exist in.