A note is struck and
carried on a nightsea wind
for twenty-five years.
A year ago, I posted an essay about Twin Peaks and Xiu Xiu’s live performance of its soundtrack. It’s a piece of writing of which I’m still very proud. A few months later, the band announced that they would release a recorded version of the project on Record Store Day. The resulting album, Xiu Xiu Plays the Music of Twin Peaks, follows the structure and texture of the live show very closely, and certainly my inclusion of it in this list is testament to my enjoyment of and subsequent engagement with that performance. Still, what more could I have to say about Xiu Xiu and Twin Peaks?
In the earlier essay, I described the music of Twin Peaks as somehow vacant, suggestive of empty rooms and empty stages, but also of characters as empty vessels: like Laura and Audrey, ideas or images of girls, waiting to be filled with meaning, desire and blame. I described Jamie Stewart—along with Sheryl Lee in Fire Walk With Me—as an uncomfortably real body, materialising at the centre of that dreamy vacancy. But that was an essay about live performance, and this is an album review, and one that reminds me of the fact that, for those familiar with it, the Twin Peaks soundtrack will never be totally vacant. Each track is replete with iconic scenes and indelible images from your favourite TV show. The soundtrack contains the images, in a very literal sense, in that the ‘frame’ of the television sits within a space vibrating to the rhythm of those famous themes. Of course, in many of the scenes, the images also contain the soundtrack: via jukebox, record player, rock band, etc.
On stage, this subtraction of Twin Peaks (as set of images/icons) from Badalamenti’s soundtrack is offset by the interpolation of the band in the centre of the frame, imposing a liveness that is anathema to David Lynch’s approach to music. By creating a studio record on the basis of this live show, the already vacant soundtrack is doubly emptied-out of the precise mental images that accompany the original tracks. Since it is a recording, the bodies of the musicians are also necessarily absent; moreover, only four of the twelve tracks feature discernible sonic bodies in the form of vocals.
Even so, all studio recordings re-create a fantasy space within which their various elements can cohere. On this twice-erased canvas—a palimpsest on which the soundtrack’s iconic locations are legible only in ghostly form—Xiu Xiu mark out boundaries and horizons with a crude grid of thick drones and thin drum machines, and populate it with a new set of protagonists: vibraphone, piano, voice, heavy guitar. And just as Xiu Xiu the live act were exposed in their irreducibility to Badalamenti’s and Laura Palmer’s unreal perfection, so this record exposes a great deal about Xiu Xiu the studio act, or the modes and motifs of their musical fantasies.