Twin Peaks has one defining ethos and it’s to keep pushing. They’ve embraced change
ever since their 2010 formation as high school friends making scrappy basement rock
‘n’ roll to now cementing their status as one of Chicago’s most essential bands. Where
their last LP, 2016’s Down In Heaven, and 2017’s Sweet ‘17 Singles compilation were
adventurous and compelling updates on their youthfully raucous formula, their fourth
album Lookout Low feels like a total revolution.
Already a well-oiled live unit, the band set on capturing the thrilling vibe of their shows.
The five of them, guitarists Cadien Lake James and Clay Frankel, bassist Jack Dolan,
multi-instrumentalist Colin Croom, and drummer Connor Brodner committed to work
countless hours in their studio and practice space. The band had never attempted
anything that daunting before, demoing 27 songs and relentlessly rehearsing them until
they were satisfied. “We wanted to hold ourselves to practice almost every day and be
tight to hone in on these songs,” says Dolan.
Having the entire band in the same room so frequently allowed for new experiments.
“This was the most collaborative it’s ever been for us. We wanted to try all the weird
ideas and be as open as possible,” says Brodner. Take lead single “Dance Through It.”
What originally started as a demo the band jokingly claims evoked Sheryl Crow, it
revealed itself when Croom suggested a drastic change in the rhythm section, infusing
the arrangement with a gospel and soul-inflected swing. Because the band was willing
to reimagine the song from its original vision, the result is one of the most obvious
highlights on Lookout Low. When James sings the track’s chorus, backed by gang vocal
harmonies, it might be the catchiest hook Twin Peaks have ever written. “There’s no
ringleader in how we write songs. Things would be a lot easier if there was one guy
calling the shots but we really put an effort to make it work and make everyone happy,”
After whittling 27 songs down to just a handful, the band knew that the tracks deserved
a more ambitious strategy that called for outside help. When legendary producer Ethan
Johns showed interest, they took a leap and decamped to Monnow Valley Studio in
Wales for three weeks. “Twin Peaks are the best Rock and Roll band I’ve heard for a
very long time,” said Johns. “Not only do they have something to say, they do it
honestly, and with dedication and passion.”
The feeling was mutual. Twin Peaks knew and admired him for his work with Paul
McCartney, Kings of Leon, and U2, “When we knew he cut everything live, it was
intimidating but so exciting. We needed a challenge,” says James. At Monnow Valley,
they thrived on the thrill of live recording, often just going with the magic of the original
first take like on “Oh Mama” and the title track. The life-affirming burst of adrenaline that
Twin Peaks give their live show is their strongest asset, one that seeps into every facet
of the LP.
The songs are bursting with energy, like the spidery jam-minded opener “Casey’s
Groove,” a mind-melder that is reassuring thanks to James’ inviting croon. Following the
tracking, Twin Peaks recruited their Chicago comrades OHMME to sing backup vocals
on seven of the 10 tracks. Cuts like “Under A Smile” transform with Macie Stewart and
Sima Cunningham’s spectral harmonies. Throughout the LP, Croom wrote horn
arrangements that at times evokes the soulfulness of Allen Toussaint and the burly
Americana of the E Street Band. The auxiliary percussion from drummer Kyle Davis
expands the already breezy and spread out compositions. Though it’s obvious how
locked in they were from just a casual listen, the band was so focused during the entire
process that they rarely left the property’s countryside grounds.
What makes Lookout Low a triumph is how each individual member of the band upped
their songwriting for the LP. The James-led opener stands as his most impressive
offering yet in sheer confidence and experimentation while Dolan’s plaintive “Unfamiliar
Sun” is possibly the album’s most affecting track, burrowing into self-reflection and hard
truths. But for Croom, who joined the band following their 2014 sophomore LP Wild
Onion, his contributions in “Laid In Gold” and “Ferry Song” showcase perhaps the
biggest leap forward. For the latter, Croom left Chicago in Spring 2018 to spend a week
writing in New Orleans. He stayed at Algiers Point, taking the ferry to the city each day.
As the track hits its boiling point, Croom accesses a part of his vocal range he’s only
hinted at in previous record.
The LP closes with “Sunken II” a song Dolan had written for the band years ago. It’s a
moment of resonance capping Lookout Low, a document of how much they’ve grown as
friends and artists from their teenage beginnings. No band could come up with a full-
length so deliberate and seamless if not for having that singular bond that’s only grown
tighter as their lives have changed. It’s a brotherhood, one that’s endured for almost a
decade. “Everyone’s having so much fun playing together as we’ve all grown and gotten
better,” says James. Adds Dolan, “There’s something intangible about how our
chemistry and friendship has evolved. We rely on each other so much.”
Manchester M1 5WW