Twin Peaks have only gotten better. Since the local rockers debuted playing sweaty basement shows while they were still in high school, the band hasn't released an album where they didn’t one-up themselves with earworm classic rock-indebted songs and ripping punk enthusiasm. As 2014’s spaced-out, varied and psychedelic “Wild Onion” improved on their scuzzy and fuzzy debut, “Sunken,” their just-released “Down in Heaven” finds them slowing down and finding a new groove.
The new album is the first for Twin Peaks as a five-piece, with keyboardist and multi-instrumentalist Colin Croom (formerly of local act Sister Crystals) joining the lineup. Where the group had always been a three-pronged songwriting threat with guitarists Cadien Lake James and Clay Frankel along with bassist Jack Dolan, everyone but drummer Connor Brodner writes and sings on "Heaven." From Frankel's voice, which can oscillate between a Lou Reed intonation (the love-scorned "Wanted You") to a Mick Jagger howl (the even more bitter "Cold Lips"), and James' well-rounded croon (the sweetly psychedelic "Walk to the One You Love" and the horn-heavy—courtesy of Whitney's Will Miller—"Lolisa"), the band would be stacked with songwriting talent with just those two. With all four, it's a sublime collaboration.
Compared with “Onion," which found Twin Peaks jumping between crunchy power-chord-laden bangers and melancholic, sometimes heartfelt ballads, “Heaven” scraps the raging rockers almost entirely for patient songwriting. There’s no song like 2014’s “Flavor,” which sounded like it could have been on a “Tony Hawk's Pro Skater” soundtrack (it’s a compliment). Instead, when it does get loud, like on the bluesy, "Exile on Main Street"-inspired "Keep It Together," which was sung by Croom, or Frankel's "Butterfly," there's subtlety and nuance over pure aggression.
During the quieter offerings is when the band really shines. James might have his best song yet with the kiss-off "You Don't" ("I wanna be bored of you, if you’re bored of me"), while Frankel weighs his own 20-something malaise with "Can't help but piss all my youth down a well" on "Stain." Elsewhere, Dolan channels peppy power-pop on "My Boys" and shows his underappreciated versatility on "Getting Better."
Because the band’s consistently borrowed from the past with their love for the Rolling Stones, the Beatles and the Replacements, Twin Peaks make up for not reinventing any wheels by being just really damn good at what they do. With the group's incessant touring, with all gigs given the same incredible amount of energy, these Chicago boys certainly worked hard enough to deserve it.
3.5 (out of four stars)
Live: Friday, May 13, at Lincoln Hall.
@joshhterry | email@example.com
Music and cocktail making classes in Chicago? Click here.