First things first with Chicago indie rock quintet Twin Peaks: Forget the whole named-after-an-iconic-TV-show thing. Forget all the intricate attempts to accurately describe the band's sound – Pitchfork wins with "kitchen-table blues, slow-dance serenades and unplugged power pop." We're going to talk about how this music makes you feel.
"Walk to the One You Love," the opening track off Twin Peaks' excellent 2016 album Down in Heaven, conjures up a slightly buzzed Sunday afternoon stroll in late summer. "My Boys" breezes by in a blur of teenaged nostalgia. Tip your head back and close your eyes during "Heavenly Showers" – you'll smell the campfire and see the shooting stars within minutes.
Twin Peaks bassist and co-vocalist (wait till you hear those group harmonies!) Jack Dolan is quick to emphasize that the "record Twin Peaks" is much different from the "live band Twin Peaks," though. ("They both have things that we like about them in equal measures," he adds democratically, further accentuating the divide.) In other words, hear the aforementioned songs live – along with some of the band's barn-burning hellraisers from early albums Sunken and Wild Onion – and you'll be gripped with a whole 'nother feeling: one of unrestrained adrenaline and pure excitement. That's inevitable when Dolan, Cadien Lake James, Clay Frankel, Connor Brodner (all 22 years old) and Colin Croom (25) take the stage every night, crowdsurfing their way through rabid audiences wringing every last drop of ecstatic joy from Twin Peaks' set.
"When we started playing at age 16-17, we played all our songs two times faster live than they actually sounded on the record," Dolan says. "We don't necessarily do that anymore, but we definitely try to make things as hard-rocking as possible while allowing everyone to hear the instrumental parts they love in a song." Dolan says multi-instrumentalist Croom, who joined the band full-time in 2014, lends a "wild card" to every stage performance: "He's probably better than all of us at our [respective] instruments. He does different shit every single day. He's probably the most talented dude I know."
Croom's flourishes shine on songs like "Getting Better," his resonant left-handed barrelhouse piano interlocking with Dolan's booming bass riffs to underscore James and Frankel's winding tremolo guitar lines. "Stain" and "Have You Ever" erect a wall of countrypolitan shine around Twin Peaks' garage rock – a feat surely assisted by recording the album in a rural Massachusetts mansion.
On a more practical note, Dolan says the band's decision to purchase and then perfect its own equipment before the recording process will pay huge dividends in the future. "We'll use all of the equipment and knowledge we accumulated [with Down in Heaven] – and then when we get an advance for the next record, we won't have to spend any of that money on stuff we already own and know how to use."
This summer, the band focused on strengthening its connection to its hometown, collaborating with Goose Island Brewing Co. on a limited-edition beer, headlining the Pitchfork Music Fest, and opening for fellow Chicagoans Wilco at a much-heralded Millennium Park appearance. "It was probably the best summer we've had as a band," Dolan says. "We actually had time to chill in Chicago, so we soaked it in. And it's been great. I'm sad it's over. But we have a lot of good memories."
Acknowledging such moments is impressive for a band of 22-year-olds (Croom is the elder statesman) who've known each other since childhood, have played music together since before they could drive and are still basking in the release of what critics are universally calling their "mature" record. Oh, and they all dropped out of college at Evergreen State in Washington together after freshman year to pursue this crazy musical dream.
"Some of the songs we play now are the same songs we used to play when we were 15, either to nobody or to a bunch of dudes in a basement," Dolan says. "Sometimes I think about that when I'm playing to thousands of people. But now it actually sounds good! And the crowd is excited! You catch yourself in those moments, then realize, that's the reality of my situation right now."
Sighing, Dolan adds, "We're learning a lot – and growing. But we're also having a lot of fun, which is what it's all about."