Two Door Cinema Club look more like librarians than rockstars. Offstage, the boys are quiet, pale, and sometimes bespectacled, barely resembling the band that rocked the Glastonbury mainstage last summer. But if they seem more likely to distribute stern glares than pop anthems, their optimistic debut proved otherwise. On Tourist History, the Northern Irish trio delivered a polished brand of electro-pop that was somehow awkward, anxious and irresistibly danceable all at the same time. With tight, upbeat tracks that all hovered around the three-minute mark, Tourist History brought positive pop to Michael Cera lookalikes everywhere, and catapulted the band to the top of every introverted indie kid’s festival wishlist. By blending synth-heavy pop with teenage angst, Two Door Cinema Club have earned a legion of analytical fans whose level of devotion is rare in the realm of pop.
For these fans, Two Door Cinema Club’s sophomore release won’t be a disappointment. Upbeat and calculated as ever, Beacon is a perky collection of short pop songs that explore the tension between optimism and anxiety. In a recent NME interview, frontman Alex Trimble summed the album up pretty accurately; it’s “deeper and definitely more emotional” than Tourist History, but it still maintains their debut’s positivity. Sure enough, each song cuts just a bit deeper than its Tourist History counterpart without sacrificing any of the band’s uplifting urgency. It picks up right where Tourist History left off — and frankly, that’s what makes it so uninspiring.
Two Door Cinema Club have always stayed just left of formulaic pop territory, but the overwrought compositions and all-too-shiny veneer on Beacon propel them just over the line. Its eleven tracks are short, clean and catchy, but barely distinguishable from each other. Two Door Cinema Club have come down with something far more common than the sophomore slump: the sophomore staccato. They’ve attempted to replicate Tourist History, and the result lacks creativity and progression. Likable and listenable, Beacon is hardly memorable.
The opener and best song on the album, “Next Year,” is a lovesick track that, like most successful indie pop this side of 2000, sounds straight out of a Hyundai commercial. “Next Year” accomplishes what Trimble aimed for throughout the album, achieving a perfect balance of heartbroken dejection (“Maybe someday / you’ll be somewhere / talking to me / as if you knew me”) and cheerful composition. “Handshake” would be forgettable, if not for the arresting and uncharacteristically dark chorus: “He said the devil will want you back / and you’ll never find love in an open hand.”
The Northern Irishmen have clearly let a little Los Angeles into their blood, as Beacon then grooves through a number of curiously sunny tunes. “Wake Up” and “Sun” languish in their own generic beachiness before “Someday” rides in on a wave of blustering arena influences. Yet Two Door Cinema Club’s dispassionate reservation negates the Muse-like guitar riffs and pulsating percussion, and “Someday” remains distant and unaffecting. The second half of Beacon maintains its predominantly one-note nature, with two memorable exceptions. On “Settle,” Beacon stops beating you over the head with proven pop formulas for four brilliant and controlled minutes. Here, Trimble sometimes verges on melancholia, drawing listeners into his own isolation (“This isn’t home / this isn’t home / I couldn’t feel more alone”). The last standout is “Pyramid,” a low, creeping song that features Two Door Cinema Club at their most ominous, which is admittedly still pretty peppy. It’s introspective, somber and a certain departure from the rest of the album. Lastly, the ethereal title track banishes the navel-gazing anxiety, closing the record on a bright and hopeful note: “the beacon is calling me / the light that never dies / reflections thrown above the sea / cast shadows in the sky.”
Two Door Cinema Club were the awkward little pop band that could; and while they’ve continued along the same path that brought them success, the trio has narrowed their scope rather than expanded it. Trimble set out to write an album that was both optimistic and deeply emotional — and in this regard, Beacon is a success. But Two Door Cinema Club traded creativity for sentimentality, and the result is tight, polished and formulaic. Over-reliant on awkward, lovelorn lyrics, Beacon is definitely relatable, but it proves something every teenager eventually learns: angst can only get you so far. [C+]