[8 August 2014]
Growing up can be a difficult proposition. At a certain point, we are expected to leave behind our juvenile leanings and predilections in favor of more adult-oriented fair. Easier for some than others, the maturation process can provide fairly interesting evolutionary results as we find ourselves trapped between who we were and who we want to be, developing individual personalities cobbled together from a host of external influences. In this nebulous middle ground, we’re able to explore multiple options in varied attempts at moving forward while still being able to retreat to the relative safety and security of more familiar literal and metaphorical territory without causing too much alarm or concern.
While certainly an awkward stage in which to find oneself, it can render fascinating results as new and different avenues are explored in hopes of finding the proverbial line of best fit. It is in this netherworld that the members of Chicago’s Twin Peaks seem to be finding themselves. Barely out of their teens and friends since elementary school, the quartet has a deceptively long history together for a group so young. Having quickly completed their first album, the delightfully shambolic, lo fi Sunken, in 2013 prior to hitting the road, Twin Peaks has taken more time with its follow up, placing the focus more on arrangements and an array of stylistic diversity only hinted at on their debut.
Where Sunken often sounded somewhat tentative and stylistically of a piece, Wild Onion shows a young group brimming with road-tested confidence and a willingness to make the best of its three vocalist format to create an album of wide-ranging sounds that at times plays more like a compilation of like-minded bands than the cohesive work of just one band. By no means a back-handed compliment, these genre exercises work to the band’s advantage, showcasing where they’ve been musically and where they could potentially go, exploring multiple potential paths in the mean time. Like a musical Choose Your Own Adventure, Twin Peaks’ future path is wide open as they showcase multiple competent genre exercises, nearly all of which are rooted in the late ‘60s, across sixteen tracks.
Opening tracks “I Found a New Way” and “Strawberry Smoothie” function as a musical through line from their first album: bratty garage rock played with reckless, almost unhinged abandon and very much in keeping with their Nuggets-indebted contemporaries. By the third track, “Mirror of Time”, a new, more musically compelling direction has been spelled out. Here the members of Twin Peaks explore a more stylistically diverse tonal palette, largely eschewing distortion in favor of more subtle effects that allow for greater focus on arrangements and the inclusion of additional instruments that help flesh out their sound while still finding it firmly rooted in the ‘60s.
This initial change in sonic direction is the first indication we’re given that Twin Peaks is very much a group going through what could ultimately prove to be a compelling and highly rewarding musical maturation process played out on record. Still capable of thrashing away in the garage, they prove themselves equally adept at exploring the possibilities afforded them by a studio and a more accommodating time frame in which to work. And with distinct musical personalities developing, individual voices come to front.
On “Making Breakfast”, “Sweet Thing” and “Good Lovin’”, Twin Peaks displays the requisite channeling of the Velvet Underground expected of all bands of this ilk, doing so with a musicality not generally possessed by those enamored of that storied group’s best most. To be sure, “Sweet Thing” could easily serve as a lost Velvets track, an evolutionary missing link between their self-titled album and Loaded, as the spirit of the recently departed Lou Reed is channeled to near-perfect effect.
Elsewhere, they explore psychedelia in its various offshoots, “Ordinary People” being perhaps the most compelling of these experiments. Veering squarely into soft psych territory with greater emphasis placed on melody and harmonies, the band on “Ordinary People” sounds light years removed from that on the somewhat juvenile, though delightfully ramshackle “Sloop Jay D”, placing greater focus on song structure and tonal variation resulting in a highly rewarding listening experience. With “Stranger World” they leave out the vocals entirely and instead employ a Pink Floyd-esque saxophone line as the primary lyrical voice, surrounding it in a sea of swirling guitars and laidback drumming.
Only “Telephone”, with its chiming, shimmering guitars and clean production, sounds slightly out of place and somewhat of an aural anomaly as it channels late ‘70s power pop before falling back into familiar territory as the song reaches its conclusion. Ultimately, Wild Onion is the sound of a group coming to terms with itself; not entirely content to continue its previously-established direction, but not altogether comfortable with any specific new direction and thus more willing to explore a broader sonic palette as they work out their ideas on record. Lacking the necessary cohesion to make it a truly stellar album, Wild Onion instead plays like a wildly enjoyable compilation of like-minded musicians exploring the possibilities afforded them by a future that is wide open.