Twin Peaks’ six-year progression from teenage garage-rockers to “Lookout Low” (Grand Jury) testifies to the Chicago quintet’s old-school approach. Rather than going for a big viral splash and then struggling to live up to it, Twin Peaks stayed relatively low-key while remaining dedicated to the roll-up-the-sleeves work ethic that is the foundation of developing as a band, both as performers and songwriters.
Hints of what was to come arrived on the band’s fine 2016 release, “Down in Heaven,” where they ventured beyond scuzzy, low-fi punk into soul and doo-wop, and a previously veiled tenderness began to surface. Those attributes have only expanded in recent years as the core lineup of guitarists Clay Frankel and Cadien Lake James, bassist Jack Dolan and drummer Connor Brodner solidified with the full-time addition of multi-instrumentalist Colin Croom.
A-list producer Ethan Johns (Paul McCartney, Elton John, Kings of Leon) ramps up the harmony vocals and orchestration on the band’s fourth studio album. “Oh Mama” raves like it was recorded while the quintet was breaking furniture in the studio. But generally a more intimate country-soul vibe prevails.
On “Casey’s Groove,” Brodner swings on drums, relaxed yet propulsive as the guitars spiral. Keyboards dance in the spaces between on the airy, love-struck “Better than Stoned.” In the ambling, horn-spackled “Laid in Gold” and “Lookout Low,” the open-hearted melodies can’t be separated from the camaraderie of the gang vocals, frequently enhanced by Ohmme’s Macie Stewart and Sima Cunningham.
The songs’ narrators know all is not well with the world, as epitomized by the brooding “Sunken II.” They live with their flaws, and regret their stumbles. But what emerges above all is a sense of gratitude. Female heroines abound.
“She shone,” Frankel sings on “Better than Stoned,” as if looking back on a friend, a lover, who came along at just the right time to keep him from free-falling over the edge. “I want to thank you for your light in my unforgiving life,” Dolan sings on “Unfamiliar Sun,” a song as vulnerable as the wobble in his voice.
A breezy immediacy wafts through “Dance Through It,” in which a woman steps through a minefield of turmoil, care-free as long as the music’s on. But the album’s vibe is best captured by “Under a Smile,” a slow-burn beauty in which a drifter finds solace in a world that seems to be unraveling. The gentle refrain builds, and one voice melts into a choir.
— By Greg Kot