Various Artists, “Sounds from the Black Lodge: A Tribute to Twin Peaks”

Do I need an excuse to talk about Twin Peaks? No, not really.  Is this review an excuse for me to talk about Twin Peaks? Pretty much.

Truthfully, I probably wouldn’t enjoy this compilation by Santiago, Chile’s No Problema Tapes (curated by ASVMR, who also features) half as much were it not for my undying obsession with David Lynch’s masterpiece, but I’m a sucker for anything that references Twin Peaks in any form, if only for my unwarranted satisfaction at then being able to speak at length about said reference and how it connects to the series to anyone in the vicinity.  Which is regularly no one.

It was actually Agent Cooper himself who turned me onto Sounds From the Black Lodge (the Black Lodge, you see, appears to be this kind of purgatorial hive of concentrated evil… sorry, I’ll stop), or Kyle MacLachlan at least,  who tweeted recently that the collection was a “cool project,” and sent me scrambling to check it out. Coop’s right, it is a cool project, and substantial. At 25 tracks across four sides, each by a different representative of the vaporwave world, and with noms de guerre featuring all manner of symbols it’s taken me some time to track down across my keyboard, this is a ride not unlike a Lynch movie itself; you can dive in at any point and it will likely make just as much sense as it would had you taken the conventional route.

Many, but not all, of these tracks take direct samples from Twin Peaks, whether that be sections of dialogue or portions of Angelo Badalamenti‘s famed score.  Others take thematic cues or bury obscure allusions deep within.  As one might expect, 2017’s astounding Twin Peaks: The Return is the main influence on the contributors here, as is immediately made clear by First Kings‘ opener “And Dark Within,” which takes its title and samples from The Return‘s infamous eighth episode.

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ASVMR doubles down on the electricity in “Dougie’s Theme,” sending shocks across one of Badalamenti’s haunted jazz tunes, many of which are used – or at the very least invoked – by others across the compilation.  MEZ, for example, stutters and jerks through “Audrey’s Dance,”  and Soul▲Craft contributes one of the more affecting tracks with the piano-laden “Forest Trance,” using elements of “Laura Palmer’s Theme.”  Meanwhile, CHROM ’47 takes Julee Cruise for a slink around “Sleuthin’,” and “I Am The Arm” by Inappropriate King Live (who I take to be from Fire-Toolz‘s stable of pseudonyms) is all about David Lynch and Dean Hurley’s own sound design for the titular character and snippets of dialogue from the Red Room .  It is easily the most terrifying track on the album.

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It is hard to think of a more appropriate genre than vaporwave, a kind of dystopian muzak designed to play out in the corners of the listener’s conscience, to pay tribute to Twin Peaks. Badalamenti’s syrupy score owes so much to the abysmal soap operas Lynch sent up with Invitation To Love (and Twin Peaks became for much of its maligned second season) it could be classed as vaporwave itself.  Classics like “Falling” always sounded so at odds with the series’ content it only served to heighten the terror, and I think the same can be said for the very particular style Lynch demands from certain actors (seriously, what the fuck?), which might well be the vaporwave ideal personified.  This slight off-ness is precisely what makes both Lynch’s and vaporwave’s hypnogogic statements so effective – just as Pete Martell might follow an interview concerning a girl’s brutal murder with a cheerful warning about fish in the coffee, artists like Australia’s blacclodge can subtly introduce dread into an otherwise pleasant paean to Margaret Lanterman.

Exactly like its inspiration, Sounds From The Black Lodge is uneven, frustrating and hard to grasp.  You will find yourself lost as you listen and you will often come to the realisation your attention has wandered elsewhere.  You will be bored at times, and you will wonder whether you are actually enjoying the album at all. You will also be intrigued, gripped, scared and thrilled.  Upon repeat listens you will be gripped by what you once fell asleep to; you will be scared by what once had no effect at all.

Now who wants to talk theories?