The Music of Twin Peaks: The Return

The score and soundtrack for the limited series makes for an eclectic mix, used selectively and inventively throughout its run.

We’re giving away a vinyl record of the Twin Peaks: The Return soundtrack! Details on how you can win are here!

Compared to the original series, the music of Twin Peaks: The Return is a much different beast. The ’90s show was scored almost wall-to-wall by composer and longtime David Lynch collaborator, Angelo Badalamenti. His pieces (many of which he created multiple variations of) were used and reused so regularly that it’s hard to reflect on classic show moments without his haunting synths or laid-back, eerie jazz playing in your head.

There is a warmth to the old Twin Peaks’ score that fit the town’s oddly cozy (considering all the murders and such) feel. The Return presents a far colder, darker universe and the new score reflects that change. Music is used sparingly; often all the sound is diegetic or, otherwise, the only addition is some ominous humming or electrical noises courtesy of Lynch’s sound design. However, occasionally, Badalamenti’s tracks from the old series are simply brought back as is.

There’s the show’s main theme, of course. There’s also the slow and incredibly creepy “Dark Mood Woods/The Red Room,” which still announces a character’s entrance or exit into the Black Lodge. Laura Palmer’s iconic theme (also known as the “Love Theme”) was ubiquitous in the original series, used as a background for all manner of soapy drama. Contrastingly, in The Return, it’s employed at extremely specific moments, like when Bobby Briggs sees Laura’s old photograph for the first time in a long while. Moments of familiarity were rare in this limited series, so the few times Laura’s theme did show up, it was an incredibly effective trigger for nostalgic chills. The same was true for the surprise, lone usage of “Audrey’s Dance.”

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Matching the slower pace and more ominous vibe of this series, Badalamenti’s new tracks are dark and droning. The series finale closed out with “Dark Space Low,” an almost overwhelmingly heavy and melancholy track consisting of a few sustained notes emanating from an unobvious instrument (I think I hear a piano?). Though still somber and weighty, some of the new score hints at hopefulness. Accompanying the scene in which we witness the genesis of an orb containing Laura Palmer’s visage, the piece “The Fireman” suggests a pure, holy quality. And, of course, Badalamenti’s most singular and obvious contribution is the sad, beautiful “Heartbreaking,” a piano piece played at the end of Part 11 that mesmerizes our good friend Dougie Jones.

A crucial element of Lynch’s work is that he’s obsessed with audio and video equally. As mentioned, he did the sound design for The Return himself. He’s also heavily involved with the music (this is nothing new; evidently Laura Palmer’s theme was created jointly with Badalamenti by way of a session of musical improv). For the score, he took a decent, fairly straightforward rock song, “American Woman” by the Muddy Magnolias, and slowed it way the hell down, resulting in a bizarre, unsettling remix that announces the coming of Cooper’s evil doppelganger, Mr. C.

Additionally, and completely dissimilar from the original Twin Peaks, in The Return Lynch assembled an impressively extensive lineup of artists to perform for scenes at the Twin Peaks’ bar, the Roadhouse. Though music is absent for much of the series, in a stunningly inventive concept for a drama, almost every episode closes out with one of these performances, shot in the style of a concert film. It makes for a robust and varied soundtrack.

Something I’ve always admire about Lynch (who is now 71) is his willingness to embrace music generations removed from his own. 1997’s Lost Highway featured tracks from The Smashing Pumpkins, Marilyn Manson, Nine Inch Nails, and Rammstein (“Du Hast” is prominently featured in the climactic scene). His last film, Inland Empire, had a song by Beck. Not to mention, Lynch released two studio albums, which featured collaborations with Lykke Li and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Karen O.

For The Return, he seemed to have a few specific aesthetics in mind for the Roadhouse performances. The Chromatics closed out the second half of the series’ premiere with their dreamy, haunting synth-driven music. Another band with a similar sound is Au Revoir Simone. Both artists were featured twice at the Roadhouse, which isn’t too surprising. Spooky synth is Lynch’s bread and butter.

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The Roadhouse feels, throughout The Return’s entire run, otherworldly. It’s unclear how much of what happens there takes place in reality. Characters we never see outside of the bar are regularly introduced, involved in conflicts we never get a full picture of. For example, as Au Revoir Simone performs “A Violent Yet Flammable World,” we witness a conversation between two young women, one of whom (played by Sky Ferreira, herself a musician) is scratching at a gnarly arm rash, for some reason.

Darker scenes in the Roadhouse are accompanied by driving, aggressive rock. Nine Inch Nails (for some reason hilariously introduced and credited as [The] Nine Inch Nails) performs “She’s Gone Away” in full in the middle of Part 8, just before we witness the detonation of the first atomic bomb. Lynch’s son Riley’s band Trouble performs “Snake Eyes,” a noisy, jazzy, sax-driven instrumental that serves as background for the introduction of one of the series most odious characters, Richard Horne.

Finally, there’s The Veils’ “Axolotl,” an assaulting track with a halting, pounding bassline. Lynch absolutely adores this kind of sound. It recalls the oft-homaged “The Pink Room” piece Angelo Badalamenti composed for Fire Walk with Me and Lynch’s own title track for his album Crazy Clown Time feels like his attempt to replicate it. It may be something of a Lynchian standby, but at least “Axolotl” is an awesome iteration of this brand of song. It accompanies a scene of a girl crawling along the Roadhouse floor, shrieking as the band plays and lights flash. It’s a powerfully affecting scene that I’ve rewatched in isolation multiple times. I’d go so far as to say it’s my favorite scene of the entire series.

Lynch also regularly depicts Americana in his work and there are Roadhouse bands that fit under that banner, too. There’s the Cactus Blossoms performing their laid-back, country-esque “Mississippi.” Sharon Von Etten’s “Tarifa” is one of my favorite songs on the soundtrack. It has a folksy quality (and an organ), building slowly and eventually rocking out. In a later episode, Eddie Vedder shows up to play an acoustic number all by his lonesome, which leads into Audrey Horne performing her iconic dance.

This is one more way Lynch utilizes the Roadhouse: to get all meta. Not only does he bring back Audrey’s dance, he also has James perform his questionably classic “Just You” (it’s actually the original recording from the old series in all its slightly out-of-tune glory). Julee Cruise, meaningfully, appears in the penultimate episode to perform “The World Spins,” a song composed by Angelo Badalamenti with lyrics by David Lynch, that she previously performed at the Roadhouse in the episode that revealed Laura Palmer’s killer. Rebekah Del Rio performs another song co-written by Lynch, “No Stars.” This lends some thematic cohesion to all of Lynch’s worlds as Del Rio performed a song in a similar lounge setting, Club Silencio in Mulholland Drive. (Lynch loves lounge settings and red curtains.)

Rounding out the eclectic package, the Twin Peaks: The Return soundtrack features some classic tunes that are so well-known they’re kind of absurdly played out, but then David Lynch can do whatever he wants. I guess there was no better song to accompany James getting the crap beaten out of him than “Sharp Dressed Man.” Less played out and used beautifully in celebration of Norma and Big Ed’s long-awaited union, is a soaring, powerful, live recording of “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” by Otis Redding.

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Last but not least, there’s Booker T. & the M.G.’s “Green Onions.” If you’re going to watch a man sweeping a floor for over two minutes, you’re going to want to do it to the tune of “Green Onions.”

We’re giving away a vinyl record of the Twin Peaks: The Return soundtrack! Details on how you can win found here!

Twin Peaks: Music From The Limited Event Series Soundtrack is now available to listen to and buy here!