RANKED: The music of Twin Peaks season 3 (so far)

On the new season of Twin Peaks, David Lynch's influence on songwriters comes full circle.

July 17, 2017

The music of Twin Peaks is as much a part of the world David Lynch created for the show as its quirky characters, dreamy images, and expansive storylines. Speaking recently about making the now classic soundtrack, Lynch said, “The music of Twin Peaks was integral to the experience. So much came out of the music that made the mood and the place and the feeling of the show come to life.” From the opening notes of the Twin Peaks theme, to the walking basslines and immersive, often unsettling soundscapes that underlie the daily events in Twin Peaks, the show’s music is like an extra character or a narrator leading viewers through Lynch’s imagination.

That’s why heads turned when the cast list for the third season appeared last year. In addition to the beloved names everyone was expecting, like Kyle Kyle MacLachlan and David Lynch himself, it included a conspicuous number of musicians, like Trent Reznor, Eddie Vedder, Sharon Van Etten, and Sky Ferreira. It seemed like he had a killer lineup for the show’s soundtrack, and maybe (we could hope) a couple artists to give in-show performances like Julee Cruise’s iconic rendition of “Rockin’ Back Inside My Heart” at the Bang Bang Roadhouse in the show’s original run.

What ended up happening was so much more than anyone expected, as well as a pitch perfect play on the show’s musical legacy. Starting at the conclusion of the season’s premiere, each episode has featured a fully staged performance in the Roadhouse by one of the artists. It’s a bit like David Lynch’s own personal Twin Peaks-themed variety show within the actual show of Twin Peaks. Like many things David Lynch, there’s a moment at the outset where you wonder, “Is he really doing this?,” and you realize he is, and it works. Twin Peaks has always broken the conventions of television, and here, he’s doing it again by infusing a serial drama with the aesthetics of musical variety shows from the 1950s and 60s.

What makes it all the more fascinating to watch is that the performers are contemporary artists who have been influenced by Twin Peaks and are now taking their place on the Twin Peaks stage. You’d feel nervous for them if David Lynch wasn’t such a patron of young talent: in previous projects, including albums, films, and his recent Festival of Disruption, he has worked directly with many of the artists making appearances in Twin Peaks. Lynch seems fully aware of the influence he’s had over a generation of songwriters, and ready to jump right into their ranks and make something new based on the old.

Now that we’re about halfway through the new season of Twin Peaks, it seems like a good time to look back at all the Roadhouse performances so far.

A note on spoilers:

There’s no way this article can exist without making references to events and characters in the new season (and the first two seasons, and the prequel film, Fire Walk With Me, for that matter) but I’ve made a careful effort to stay vague on significant plot details. Read at your own risk. (But really, you should be fine.)

9. Hudson Mohawke – “Human”

(Episode 9)

If you blinked while watching Episode 9, you might’ve missed Hudson Mohawke performing a previously unreleased song called “Human.” This is because he showed up on camera for about ten seconds before the scene cut to Sky Ferreira as a gnarly stoner with a rash named Ella talking to her friend about recent troubles at work. He’s there more to provide background music for this than give a full, proper Roadhouse performance, and that’s why it’s hard to justify putting him higher on this list. But what we do hear of the moody, glitchy new track is classic Hud Mo, and an appropriately unsettling compliment to an ominous sounding conversation. “You know that Zebra’s out again?” Okay!

8. Au Revoir Simone – “Lark”

(Episode 4)

7. Au Revoir Simone – “A Violent Yet Flammable World”

(Episode 9)

The Brooklyn synth-pop trio Au Revoir Simone are the only act so far to give two full Roadhouse performances, which is strange, because something here doesn’t really work. It’s nothing about the music itself, which is layered and catchy, but the way their performances come across on camera and fit into the mood of the show. With every other artist so far, Lynch has made some attempt at stylizing their stage presence to blend in with the classic shadowy, smokey vibe of the Roadhouse. Most musicians are obviously not really playing their instruments (see: anyone with a guitar) but they look damn cool, because this is a David Lynch production. The three members of Au Revoir Simone appear boxed in by their large, chunky keyboards, looking more like they’re trying out instruments in a music store than appearing on the Twin Peaks. Their peppy songs also don’t really sound like something that would play at the Roadhouse on a late night.

6. Chromatics – “Shadow”

(Episode 2)

It might seem strange not putting this song higher, but hear me out. Yes, it’s as perfect a piece of Twin Peaks-inspired dream pop as they come, and it was the big song that kicked off the Roadhouse concert series. It’s as close to a Twin Peaks banger as any song will ever come. What’s more, it serves as a comforting end to the first (double-length) episode of the new season. After viewers had spent nearly two hours in new and unknown places, they suddenly found themselves back in the good old Roadhouse, surrounded by familiar faces, and feeling like this really is a Twin Peaks revival after all. And that, I think, is why I’m having more and more trouble going back to it. This performance is Twin Peaks preserved in a museum; it’s what the show would be if Lynch had decided to indulge viewers’ nostalgia instead of pushing new boundaries and making a real, vital, fresh project.

5. The Cactus Blossoms – “Mississippi”

(Episode 3)

Coming at the end of Episode 3, or the second standalone episode, this is the second Roadhouse performance and the one where it becomes clear that these performances are going to be a recurring element throughout the show. With that in mind, Lynch makes an important statement by putting the Everly Brothers-influenced Cactus Blossoms on the stage: this will not be the Twin Peaks Dream Pop Revue. The delicate and winding “Mississippi” offers light, sunny harmonies that take sudden turns into darker minor breaks. By this point in the series, it’s clear to viewers that they’re traveling down a new road dotted occasionally with familiar signposts, and this song captures what it’s like being on that voyage. It’s not a nostalgia performance, but a pure Lynchian mood piece.

4. Trouble – “Snake Eyes”

(Episode 5)

It’s no wonder Trouble look more comfortable than anyone else so far on the Roadhouse stage. The band is a new collaboration between Dirty Beaches’ Alex Zang, who has long spoke of the heavy David Lynch influence on his work, and Lynch’s own son, Riley Lynch, who… has David Lynch in his blood. The pounding, eerie rock jam “Snake Eyes” evokes one of Lynch’s finest and most under recognized musical moments, “The Pink Room” from Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, while Zhang’s free jazz saxophone playing takes it into new, unpredictable territory. The song feels dangerous, and this makes it a perfect complement a scene that plays out in the foreground where we meet a new character so unrelentingly dark that only David Lynch could’ve created him.

3. Rebekah Del Rio – “No Stars”

(Episode 10)

Anybody familiar with David Lynch’s work would’ve recognized last night’s Roadhouse performer as Rebekah Del Rio, the Latin American singer/songwriter who gave a devastating performance of “Llorando,” a Spanish-language version of Roy Orbison’s “Crying,” in Mulholland Dr. Here she’s reassuming the “mysterious diva singing in a dark smoky club” role that might very well be Lynch’s most iconic image, showing up most famously in Blue Velvet and returning throughout his films, music videos, and even in physical form at his Paris nightclub. What makes this performance especially notable is that Lynch composed “No Stars” together with Del Rio and longtime collaborator John Neff, making it a brief nod to the director’s widely overlooked music career. If this seemed like the most organic transition to a Roadhouse performance in the series so far, there’s a very good reason for it. Also, that’s Moby on guitar! Hi Moby!

2. Sharon Van Etten – “Tarifa”

(Episode 6)

David Lynch has a history of using moments of musical ecstasy to mark crescendos in storylines, like the “Club Silencio” scene in Mulholland Dr., or Julee Cruise’s Roadhouse performance in the original Twin Peaks, which overlaps with the murder of Maddy Ferguson. Coming at the end an episode that contains a handful of the show’s most unsettling and gruesome scenes so far, with more than one storyline seemingly stuck in a rut of hopelessness, Sharon Van Etten’s performance of “Tarifa” is one such moment. Instead of signalling the beginning of the end—we’re only ½ in at this point, and the season is long—Van Etten’s yearning performance signals the beginning of the middle, and offers catharsis for what has been a difficult viewing experience. It’s a perfectly timed sigh.

1. Nine Inch Nails – “She’s Gone”

(Episode 8)

There’s no way this wouldn’t be at #1. On top of showing up in a landmark, envelope-pushing episode that’s widely being regarded as the season’s best yet, “The” Nine Inch Nails look cool as all hell up there on stage. Everything from Trent Reznor’s sunglasses and leather gloves, to the song’s slow and heavy build, to the crowd’s hypnotizing movements make for an unforgettable performance. And its positioning in the middle of the episode instead of at the end makes it a perfect if unexpected stepping stone between the episode’s frenetic first act and its abstract, mind bending second act. This performance will no doubt remain a career standout, for Nine Inch Nails and David Lynch alike.

Honourable Mention:

Booker T. & The MGs, Green Onions

(Episode 7)

This is a non-performance and therefore has no business with an official position on this list, but it’s worth pointing out for Lynch’s cheeky playing with the audience’s expectations. By now we’ve had a Roadhouse performance at the end of every episode and we’re expecting another one. Instead, Lynch shows workers at The Roadhouse cleaning up after what looks like a performance we didn’t see, the camera focusing on a man sweeping for a full two minutes before anything else happens while “Green Onions” plays in the background. It’s a reminder that Lynch has a sense of humor.

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