The trio have become swaggering indie-disco stars
One of the reasons why the debut album by Northern Irish trio Two Door Cinema Club is so well loved is its impressive breadth. ‘Tourist History’, from 2010, sounds like the best bits of a particularly cool teenage boy’s record collection. There’s a hint of Bloc Party’s stadium-packing squall on ‘Cigarettes In The Theatre’, a little of The Futureheads in the frenetic vocal harmonies of ‘I Can Talk’, the ghost of Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard in Alex Trimble’s waifish vocal emoting. Oh yeah, and it’s catchy. Really bloody catchy. Even the choruses have choruses.
But for all its ear-worming sleekness, there’s a nervous quality to it – the trademark tentativeness of a band’s debut. Take ‘Eat That Up, It’s Good For You’, when Trimble shyly suggests: “You would look a little better, don’t you know, if you just wore less make-up?”, sounding for all the world like the class geek attempting to pay a backhanded compliment to a nonchalant hot girl. He needn’t blush so much. Two Door’s seamless amalgamation of the fey and the anthemic took off in a way that no-one expected, culminating in a triumphant turn from Alex at the Olympics opening ceremony. In front of a billion people on TV, Two Door were crowned the brightest new stars of the UK music scene. If that doesn’t give Alex a confidence boost, nothing will.
‘Beacon’ finds Two Door Cinema Club casting off the shackles of their post-adolescent gawkiness. If ‘Tourist History’ was the synth-tinged personification of classroom whispers, this second album finds Two Door whipping off their school ties, knotting them around their heads and inching their trainers onto the dancefloor. It blitzes in on a flurry of discordant, M83-style synth-fuzz, and while it doesn’t stray far from their trademark tinkly guitar lines and infectious choruses, it’s laced with New Order-ish disco trimmings. This is expanded upon in the gauzy ‘Handshake’, which finds the band venturing into the sort of glassy-eyed indie-disco perfected by the likes of Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Metronomic synths and Alex’s affected deadpan lead the track away from tackiness, towards dark Euro-disco – and a brief blast from some moody horns wraps the whole thing up. Musically, they’ve come on. Kevin Baird’s bass work – always a highlight – is finally showcased to full effect on the ‘Rip It Up’-style swagger of ‘Wake Up’ and the jagged riffing of ‘Sun’, while ‘Pyramid’ features some seriously impressive guitar noodles.
But although Two Door look good under disco lights, the turbulence of constant touring seems to have hit the band hard. Since ‘Tourist History’ they have played everywhere. And the woes of the infamously cramped tourbus lifestyle are explored on ‘Next Year’ (“I don’t know where I am going to rest my head tonight”), while the mournful cry of “Everyone is here except for me” on ‘The World is Watching’ seems to suggest Alex is sick of missing out on news from home. References to a life on the road are scattered sporadically throughout ‘Beacon’ – in ‘Sun’ the band are “Torn apart through New York and London”, while the opener ‘Next Year’ finds Alex soothing the song’s subject with the promise that “I’ll be home next year” – a promise the listener doubts will come to fruition, if the homesickness of the rest of the record is anything to go by. It’s a noticeable difference from ‘Tourist History’, where lyrics only really existed to form choruses and scaffold refrains. On ‘Beacon’, Alex seems genuine. Plaintive, even.
It’s part of what makes ‘Beacon’ undoubtedly a more sophisticated release than ‘Tourist History’ – even if, in places, it feels thematically confused. One half is a feverish disco explosion destined to ignite stadiums and bars, the other a maudlin rumination on travel and the concept of home. But they’ve alluded to this lack of focus in the album title, which, says bassist Kevin, is inspired by the idea of being “stranded at sea, and aiming for this distant point, this beacon”. Stranded they may be, treading water, finding their feet. But where they’re heading sounds damn good.