Album Review: Two Door Cinema Club – Beacon

[Kitsuné; 2012]

If you heard their 2010 debut as a totally impartial and uninformed listener, Two Door Cinema Club probably didn’t end up sounding like you imagined. Their endearing, nerdy persona and accelerated tempos did suggest a highly calculated product, but the music was so lively and debonair that this was easy to forget. The Northern Ireland trio plows through tunes like you would through an inch of snow on your sidewalk. Their enthusiasm is inescapable. Beacon, the three-piece’s follow-up to the 2010 goodwill-siphoning sugar rush that was Tourist History, confirms that its predecessor was not just a jumping-off point, it also foreshadowed the band’s trajectory. Those who immediately fell in love with the band’s demos three years ago will be smitten again, but repetitive song structures and clunky lyrics marginalize Beacon’s overall impact.

If there’s one thing that Two Door Cinema Club can be counted on for, it’s a good riff. Beacon has its fair share, and fortunately for those who enjoyed their determined fretboard shrieking, the band is still allergic to the lower half of their guitars. They dabble out licks and chord progressions in the highest registers, squirming across the stutter-step rhythms. Of course, just because a song has a tasty riff speaks nothing of its overall quality. “Next Year”’s electrifying intro, a sinewy tangle of notes and drums, never gets past the first checkpoint. As he cries out “I don’t know where I am going to rest my head tonight/ So I won’t promise that I’ll speak to you today” over total silence, Alex Trimble quickly sends the song into hibernation. He isn’t a strong enough singer and his ear for melody is too callow to carry such a moment on his own, particularly on the opening lines of an album.

The musical variety has been beefed up a bit, though. Until it bubbles over, “Handshake” sounds like Junior Boys circa Last Exit, while the nimble noodling on “Pyramid” eventually turns into a full-on Muse gallop. “Someday” and “Wake Up” are blindingly efficient and would fit in perfectly on Tourist History. “Sun” is crystallized power pop with nods to late ’70s groups like Bay City Rollers, adroitly forging common ground between freewheeling rock and roll and sticky pop hooks. It exudes a palpable metropolitan cool, even when the maximalism is trying its hardest to swipe your feet out from under you.

On the upbeat tracks, the melodies matter less; on the slower numbers (of which there are a few too many) there’s nowhere to hide. This exposes a shortcoming that was previously concealed quite well. “Spring” sustains itself on a woody riff, while Trimble overcompensates for the oil-meets-water vocals and instrumentation. “The World is Watching,” which features a guest spot from Valentina; it wallows but never engages on anything more than an aural level. The lyrics here are conflicted and splashy, but seldom do they provoke or stimulate.

Two Door Cinema Club haven’t produced a superior follow-up, it’s more like a step sideways. Still, Beacon successfully manages to stagger itself so as to retain most of its potency. If it’s not as explicitly vital or deep as one might hope it to be, it’s enjoyable. Rough patches aside, Beacon has moments that positively reek of an instinctual love for music; it’s catchy, fun, and sometimes thoughtful, even if it never bowls you over.