Twin Peaks Novel Next Year

“Twin Peaks” novel will reveal what happened during the show’s 25-year hiatus http://www.salon.com/2014/10/17/twin_peaks_novel_will_reveal_what_happened_during_the_shows_25_year_hiatus/ via @Salon

I am about to hit the highway towards Lubbock.   Posting will be slow today.  In the mean time there is more great news for Twin Peaks fans:  Co-creator Mark Frost will be publishing a novel next year that explains what has happened in the 25 years between the last season and this new one.   I will definitely be reading this when it comes out.  If you are a fan I recommend The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer

Twin Peaks and the Uncanny

I’ve been looking up stuff on Twin Peaks ever since it was announced that it will be returning in 2016.  The scene above is interesting because Laura Palmer tells Agent Dale Cooper that she’ll be seeing him again in 25 years.  2016 will be 25 years since this episode aired.

But what also struck me was how unsettling the above imagery is.  I no longer find horror movies frightening for the most part, and for those of you that haven’t watched Twin Peaks is not a horror show in any traditional sense.  (It is a combination of genres that is really quite unique.)  There are some that are well done and suspenseful, but as an adult they don’t leave me with any lingering terror after I’m done watching them.  I used to be really scared of The Shining as a kid, but I watched it a couple years ago and found myself laughing at how insane and over the top it was.

However, David Lynch is a master of what is called the uncanny.  A definition of uncanny is:  strange or mysterious, especially in an unsettling way.

The uncanny is a feeling and feelings are abstract.  It can be as surreal as the imagery above or it can be a normal everyday thing that doesn’t quite add up.  Often in dreams it is never quite day and never quite night, and there is something haunting about this.  Lynch as a filmmaker, and the above imagery is not the best example of this, is able to create images that are more like real dreams than any filmmaker that I can think of.  It’s the combination of things that don’t belong together in a way that is troubling.  I think one of the many reasons why this show has remained fascinating for so many people for so long is there is something about the way that it affects our subconscious that leaves a lasting impression.

Twin Peaks to Return!

A special TWIN PEAKS announcement: http://youtu.be/nNHsA4WIFvc

My flight just got delayed slightly, but guess what?  I don’t give a shit because Twin Peaks is coming back to TV!  In 2016 nine brand new episodes will air on Showtime.  David Lynch and Mark Frost will be writing all nine episodes and Lynch will direct all nine.  The story will take place in the present and will be a continuation of the original series.  This is a great day! 

The Mystery of Twin Peaks

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One of the most wonderful universes that you can get lost in is Twin Peaks.  It takes you into the mystery of the world.  It’s strange, but not any stranger than real life.  It’s just that the strangeness of real life is heightened so that it is brought to the forefront.  One of the things that David Lynch does so well is to create strong emotions.  He knows that emotions are abstract, you can’t explain sadness or pain or happiness so much as you can feel it.  Through abstract visuals and sound design he creates cinema of intense feeling.  

The trick to what he does is that he often allows you to feel two different emotions at the same time. The end of Fire Walk With Me, the movie that takes place in the Twin Peaks universe, is one of the most horrifying sequences I have ever seen in film.  It is also beautiful.  The fact that it is beautiful doesn’t make it any less horrific to watch.  In fact in might make it more so, because it opens you up emotionally to it in a way that no straight horror movie or documentary ever could.  David Lynch isn’t afraid to make you feel uncomfortable, but you never ever get the sense he is trying to shock you just for the sake of it.  

The TV show Twin Peaks is a combination of different genres.  There are characters that could have come out of a film noir and there are characters that could have come out of a soap opera.  These more traditional genre elements are laced with episodes of the surreal and uncanny.  At the core of Twin Peaks is a murder mystery.  However, the TV show especially also features many moments of light comedy.  It is again the fact that it is combining different elements that make it so unique.  

But I think one thing that truly makes Twin Peaks special is that in watching it, we not only recognize feelings and emotions from reality, but the show somehow heightens the viewers reality as well.  When we enter the woods after seeing the show we may notice how dark and mysterious they are in ways we might not have payed attention to.  Entering a diner we may notice details and the behavior of people in ways in which we didn’t before.  Twin Peaks is great entertainment, but it is also something more.  It is a fictional world that makes us aware of the mysteries in our own.  

Lana Del Rey Ultraviolence Review

I felt that the following review did not do the album justice so I posted a follow up here:

http://www.windupwire.com/2014/06/20/lana-del-rey-ultraviolence-revisited/

I really like the new Lana Del Rey album, Ultraviolence, in spite of Dan Auerbach’s lazy production.  I know there is a lot of internet noise claiming Lana Del Ray is a fraud, but I actually think she is one of the few originals in pop music right now.  She has a dreamily haunted voice, is great at crafting darkly beautiful melodies, and is great at taking different kinds of American iconography in her lyrics and forging something new with them.  I must admit that I am a sucker for David Lynch and Del Ray’s blending of American pop culture and dark dreams sound like they would be the perfect soundtrack to a Lynch movie. I am predisposed to like the kind of music she makes.

Del Rey had a pretty consistent vision across her albums and singles.  You are not going to mistake her for a different artist.  If you liked what she did before you are going to like what she is doing now, while the opposite is also true.  One of the reasons I believe her first album was a success was that she took several retro elements, infused them with some modern production and lyrical references, and ended up with her own small patch of uncharted territory.

I first want to state that I like her new album.  Any criticism thrown at it is minor and not actually aimed at her.  She still sings fantastically, although I do miss her lower register a bit, which is my favorite part of her range.  If you don’t think she can sing listen to the final track on her new album The Other Woman.  The melodies are still great.  She also still uses the language of pop culture, mixes it with a dark sexuality, and creates something her own.  Some people will claim that she is inauthentic, because she records under a false name, but the pop world is littered with people who built self created myths.  Bob Dylan is not his real name and he never road to New York City in a box car.  Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious are, surprise, not their real names either.  That is not to say that she is as talented as Bob Dylan or as ground breaking as the Sex Pistols, not by a long shot, but in the world of pop music she has created something uniquely hers.  That alone should be applauded.

However, I do have some minor quibbles with her new album.  These I mostly attribute to Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys fame.  For someone that has a strong retro vibe in her work, I can’t imagine that there was very much thought put into the idea of recording her mostly live to old analog tape, dousing her in a shitload of reverb, and having her track with a live band.  I love the sound of analog tape and I also love when people track live to it.  Hell, my band did that on our new album.  But with someone that takes so many influences from the past this seems to make her work even more backward looking than it really is.  It just seems like such an obvious choice that to me it shows the mind of a producer with little imagination.

First he puts so much reverb on her voice that it pushes her voice to the background at times when it is her biggest asset.  Sometimes this ridiculous amount of reverb actually makes it hard to understand what she is singing about.  Also, I think with someone that draws so much influence form the past you have to be careful with how “retro” you make her record sound.  It becomes more of a genre exercise that it ought to be.  I also find the backing band to be lacking in any real personality.  They do serve the songs, but to the point that if she wasn’t singing on them there wouldn’t be much going on musically that was interesting.  Look, I love effects, I like hearing real musicians play, I like these songs and this singer, but I can’t help but feel the arrangements could be more memorable in and of themselves.

Listening to her two albums, and the song that she did with Bobby Womack, I believe Lana Del Rey is a great talent that will probably have a long career of making interesting records.  Hopefully next time she won’t choose a hack like Dan Auerbach to produce it.

Kanye West’s Yeezus

I have become transfixed with the music of Kanye West lately.  Whatever you think of him, and like me you probably have an opinion of him even before you have heard a note of his music, he is definitely an artist.  He allows all of the contradictions in his personality, both the good and bad, to come through in his music even when it makes him look less than flattering.  More importantly he has become a first rate sonic architect.  His latest album Yeezus, and my favorite, is batshit insane in the best way possible.  I like his work from best to least in reverse order, though I will admit I am least familiar with his first two records.  The stranger his music gets the better as far as I’m concerned. 

His lyrics, while it would be wrong to say they are not intelligent, are not intellectual in a true sense.  Although they have many moments of playfulness and bizarre humor, in some way they seem less constructed than delivered.  It’s almost as if we have a ticker tape of the subconscious.  This is both their strength and weakness.  That’s why I believe his lyrics work the best when they are either a direct representation of how he feels, or are completely crazy on something like I Am a God.  The very best are when you have a tough time telling the two apart.  When he is singing something like I Am a God I believe he is just having fun, trying to be provocative.  He has found a small bit of virgin territory, which is harder and harder to do these days, and is staking it out, probably laughing at all of the people that are going to freak out. 

Other than being a huge Public Enemy fan I am not a big rap fan.  I am trying to branch out and learn more as it is one of the areas where I feel my musical education is lacking.  I’ve always felt that the singing voice is the quickest way to some kind of emotional truth in music.  When someone sings it is almost a window into their soul.  In rap that nonverbal emotional element is missing and the words really do matter.  That’s not to say that a rappers delivery can’t communicate emotions, it is just not the same as singing though.  Also, and this goes for any genre, one of my pet peeves lyrically is of the moment pop culture references.  They seem to date something instantly.  That’s not to say that you can’t reach some universal truth while doing so, but you have an uphill battle.  Too often rap not only exists in the world of the ego, which rock n roll has been doing since it began, but in the world of the temporary.  I feel like the best lyrics either make you think on some deeper level, or stay out of the way of the melody completely and let the emotional quality of a piece of music do the talking.  If you are thinking, but at a very rudimentary level, you are being taken out of the emotion of the piece as far as I’m concerned.  No one would say that Bernard Sumner was a great poet, but his lyrics have an almost blank slate quality that allows you to project your own imagination into the song.  They don’t get in the way of enjoying his effervescent melodies.  I’m trying to rethink my personal prejudices when it comes to lyrics, at least when I listen to rap, as I realize it is a different form with different rules. 

I became interested in Kanye when both Lou Reed and David Lynch talked about their love of his new album.  They are two artists that I respect greatly and I had to see what they were going on about.  I was instantly impressed with Yeezus and wanted to learn more. 

I see the lyrics on Yeezus as both a mixture of raw pain and again as someone just trying to have fun.  It’s a strange blend, but compelling because of it.  Part of the detective work of the listener is trying to determine where he is being serious and where he is not.  Sometimes he is playing with his media perception and other times he is letting those inner thoughts, the ones that most of us keep secret, come to the forefront.

Sonically the juxtaposition of opposing ideas again makes this album incredibly captivating.  Primal drums, screeching synths, and screams will suddenly give way to beautiful moments of soul singing.  Often you’ll get one or the other on a record, but rarely both.  He is playing with both melody and noise often in the same song.  This record is one of the few times when I have heard something and I feel like something is being done new sonically.  Sure, everything has been done in some ways, but he is painting new colors in the margins.  He is combining things in a way that they have never quite been combined before.  It’s exciting.    

Thoughts on Autotune

In music many people talk about autotune and if it should be used or not.  Autotune is a program that will allow an engineer to fix bad notes by a singer by shifting the pitch of a note a singer is singing.  Autotune is also used to an extreme to make voices sound robotic and unnatural.  Some people believe that autotune is cheating.  They think that it allows people that have no talent to make records.  This is true.  Because of this some people are vehemently against it.  Other people will use it on every song to smooth out a singers voice and see no problem using it if it makes for a great record. 

I’ve been listening to The Afghan Whigs lately.  Greg Dulli has a voice that can go from a low sensual baritone to a high scream.  His singing can be a little pitchy, though not very much, but in a way that completely serves the song.  Vic Chesnutt’s voice is often pitchy, but again his unique voice serves his songs perfectly.  Most of The Afghan Whigs records were made before autotune.  If you use autotune too much, you rob people of their personality.  Things that are too perfect often lack soul.  If some of those records were made now would some L.A. studio asshole try to fix them? 

Singing is all about letting someone’s soul and personality come through.  Lou Reed only had about a two note range, but his voice was the perfect vehicle for his lyrics.  Meanwhile Sam Cooke could sing like an angel, but again his voice perfectly fit his material.  There is no such thing as good or bad singing, only singing that either works with the given material or not.  A singer either has a personality that makes you connect with a piece of music or they do not.  Any of us could have a debate about which singers have personality and which do not, but that comes down to taste.  There are many singers that have technically great voices, but that make you feel nothing.  Most modern country stars are in this bracket as far as I’m concerned. 

We’ve been singing since the dawn of time.  The right singer with the right song has a kind of primal energy to it that allows us to feel emotion, even if we can’t understand the lyrics.  As we become more technically advanced we should not let technology rob us of individual expression. 

However, all of that being said, I think there are two uses where autotune is valid.  Record budgets weren’t what they used to be.  I read that John Mellencamp spent $300,000 dollars making a record and this was before he was a big star!  That shit doesn’t happen too often anymore.  Only the most popular artists these days have that kind of budget.  Many artists might not have the time to spend hours getting the perfect take.  If you get a really exceptional take and use autotune to fix one or two bad notes then I don’t see any real problem with it.  This is actually what the program was designed for.  It will keep the costs of recording down and allow you to possibly use the overall best performance.  With that kind of use autotune might actually allow for a more emotional take.  If you are only using it very sparingly you are not getting in the way of a singers humanity, and are only allowing for a really great take to get its due. 

I also don’t have a problem with people that use it to extremes given the right circumstances.  If you are actually trying to create something that is unnatural or inhuman then it is just a tool at your disposal.  Daft Punk, who dress like robots, use it in this light all the time and it fits what they do.  I have also heard David Lynch use it in a way that is uncanny.  It is so unnatural that it actually creates a feeling of unease.  He is using it as a tool to create the desired emotion, and not as someone that is using it for a crutch. 

Like most things autotune is best either used very little or a lot.  It’s that middle road that leads to mediocrity.  In art, the middle of the road is always the worst place to be.