Words by Brian Salvatore
There have been, and will continue to be lots of articles written about how Down in Heaven is Twin Peaks’ most mature record; how they stripped away the distortion and found their inner pop band. None of this is wrong, per se, but it doesn’t exactly give the band the credit they deserve. Down in Heaven is a great record that both builds on what they’ve done in the past, and pivots towards something new.
The presence of keyboard player Colin Croom, who joined the band after the recording of Wild Onion, their previous record, is part of what makes this record sound so different. His piano and organ work add a complexity to the songs – even though he’s not exactly doing Keith Emerson runs. His organ work, in particular, creates a bed for the guitars to jump on, elevating their parts in the mix, while grounding the song in the late 60’s sonics that the band seems intent on emulating. Coupled with the more pronounced acoustic guitars and up-front bass lines, this is definitely a record that expands their sound without redefining it.
But the band also took the time to write some amazing songs this time out. Album opener “Walk to the One You Love” is interesting both in its chromatic chord progression and its time signature, but the song remains one that is catchy and singable. Many of these songs have a bounce and an instrumental carefree nature that are undercut by the shouted/screamed vocals that lay on top. There are a number of songs with really impressive guitar/horn melodies – “Cold Lips” in particular – the band certainly had good instrumental sections before, but this record ramps that up considerably.
If anyone cries ‘sellout’ at the band, the vocals are the loudest argument against that. Sure, there might be fewer tracks with walls of distortion, but the songs still have the same grit and drive that their other work has; they’ve simply added some new colors to the palette. The vocals range from raw to sweet, sometimes in the same song, and for every “My Boys,” which is about as poppy as the band gets, there’s a throat-shredding “Have You Ever?” on the other side of the coin.
Nothing on this record sounds forced or contrived; in fact, taken with Wild Onion, it very much sounds like a companion piece. Onion was very much a record for weekdays – you’re rushing around, trying to get your life in order, and the band’s intensity lights a fire under your ass. Heaven is a weekend record – a little more laid back, a little friendlier, but still very much coming from the same place.
This, of course, begs the question: where does the band go next? If the songs are this good, they can go anyplace they please and I’ll be along for the ride.
‘Down in Heaven’
© May 13th, 2016
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