When Twin Peaks returned to our screens over a year ago, there was a palpable sense of colossal achievement. The two-episode premiere introduced us to the nightmarish world of David Lynch and Mark Frost afresh, almost completely divorced from the kooky soap-drama aspects of the original and fully immersing the viewer into a darker hellscape that the original Twin Peaks hinted at but never fully explored. Johnny Jewel’s surprise album, Themes For Television, features the same brooding intensity of Lynch’s work, albeit through his own nightmare-fuelled musical compositions.
Essentially an album of offcuts from his Windswept LP (that saw both ‘Windswept’ and ‘Saturday’ used in Twin Peaks: The Return), Themes For Television came from the 6 hours of music created from the imageless imaginings of what Twin Peaks: The Return might sound or feel like. The result is a meditative album of meandering late-night haziness, of jazz interludes, soaring strings and concentrated synth sustains that hark back to Angelo Badalamenti’s original soundtrack work and equally portrays emotional complexities anew.
‘Johnny Jewel, like Lynch, tackles the unsettling borderline between ecstasy and horror’
The re-worked ‘Windswept (Minimal)’ and ‘Saturday (Evening)’ are both standout tracks, each given a fresh new dimension and brought in-line with the dark ponderings of Themes For Television. The heavenly vocals of ‘Saturday (Evening)’ undoubtedly hint at a foreboding pop masterpiece, stripping back the original into a fever-dream premonition. In the original run of Twin Peaks, there’s a telling line from Donna that sums up Lynch, Frost and subsequently Jewel’s intent: ‘It’s like I’m having the most beautiful dream and the most terrible nightmare all at once.’ Themes For Television expertly traverses through the two territories, leaving you spellbound throughout simple piano compositions such as ‘Embers’ before threatening you with the noise-rock staccato of ‘Caffeine’.
‘Loveless’ comes straight from Angelo Badalamenti’s original soundtrack rulebook, utilising slow jazz percussion before being lost to impending strings and an eternal gloominess. ‘Black Room’ and ‘Lipstick’ both follow a similar pattern, feeling like an updated homage to Badalamenti’s work, albeit with more intent on invoking the abject terror of Lynch’s liminal works. Themes For Television is strongest when Jewel creates compositions based on his own emotional reaction to Lynch’s work rather than attempting to recreate, and whilst the Badalamenti-esque compositions certainly feel nostalgic, tracks like ‘Spiral Staircase’ and ‘Breathless’ capture a similar state of ethereal beauty in a uniquely Johnny Jewel manner.
‘Themes For Television is awash with an unsettling awe that seeks out beauty in a twisted realm of darkness’
Themes For Televisions is, in some respects, a companion piece to the mythical world of Lynch and Frost. Johnny Jewel takes the core emotional value from Twin Peaks – the unsettling borderline between ecstasy and horror – and creates his own musical pieces from the distorted duality Twin Peaks sets out to achieve. Whilst it might seem simple to call the 21-track album ‘soundtrack work’, Themes For Television is best listened to completely divorced from the Peaks universe in all but a concise re-conception of the themes the show raises. As such, Themes is easily most breathtaking when Jewel composes from his own emotional understanding rather than when paying homage to the original score. Jewel’s surprise album is awash with the omniscient, unsettling awe that defines Lynch’s nightmare worlds and further cements Johnny Jewel as a visionary musician, apt in conjuring an immense emotional response that seeks out the beauty in a twisted realm of darkness.
Image: Italians Do It Better/Johnny Jewel