Having made a mark with their debut Tourist History, which led to the band becoming festival favourites as well as singer Alex Trimble performing at the 2012 Olympics, Two Door Cinema Club went from touring to going straight back into the studio without pausing for breath – picking up U2 and Snow Patrol producer Jacknife Lee along the way – and then recorded and released their follow-up album in the space of only five months. Despite the high-speed delivery with which it was made Beacon is far from being a rushjob, instead showing off more mature and expansive songwriting along with some of the best songs of the band’s career to date.
Right from the start of Next Year it’s obvious how things have changed, the synth intro giving way to loud and punchy live drums instead of the programmed ones from their last album and a smoother and less jagged guitar tone even when the distortion is ramped up for the chorus – on the whole the album has an all-round “more” feel to it, the sole exception being the lyrics which take a more introspective and personal turn. Stripping the layers away to build the song back up in a gorgeous crescendo before letting it fall away again, Lee’s production causes the band’s music to sound bigger than ever, opening it up from the tight and compact sound on Tourist History and giving the more ambitious songwriting the room to breathe it needs in order to really shine. Handshake is even more electronic than New Year and almost totally unrecognisable as a TDCC song (despite being performed live as early as their first tour) until Sam Halliday’s springy lead guitar breaks in, giving way to Trimble’s lower-than-usual vocals during the verse before the chorus brings things back to more familiar territory. The production isn’t the only thing the band have changed from their previous album though, ditching the short-and-sweet formula they had to begin with for a more inventive approach to their music – almost every track on here is longer than the longest one on their debut, even if it’s only by a matter of seconds, and the extra space benefits them massively. The sunniest sounding song on the album (ironically enough, considering what comes straight after it), Wake Up takes a slightly funkier approach to the band’s new style and brings the bass back up front where it belongs – the only real casualty of the new sound are the basslines, which apart from a few select songs no longer have the power that they used to – with the interplay between the nimble guitar lines and the punchy bass making it an irresistibly catchy highlight. Halfway through the song suddenly changes, shaking off the bouncy feeling but keeping all of the energy it had built up as the chorus finally makes an appearance and pulls it towards a deeply layered, electronic finale. By contrast Sun is a slow-building jewel of a song instead of the burst of energy Wake Up was, growing from Trimble’s plaintive singing over a simple keyboard beat to scratchy riffs, a horn section and a gigantic, festival-worthy chorus all coming together piece by piece. Colossal yet somehow more subtle too, it would be easy for the song to end up bloated and overblown in the hands of some other band but everything slots together perfectly without a single note out of place, putting it firmly as the centrepiece of the album and the core of their new style. Changing briefly from the band-focused sound to one that puts individual instruments first Someday is basically Tourist History 2.0, bringing things back down from the lofty heights of Sun for a less sprawling and more compact and urgent number, putting Halliday’s searing guitar in the spotlight for a standout performance that goes beyond the math-rock chords and icy tremolos of their debut album – both of which are still present here but broken up by frantic, almost-but-not-quite rockabilly licks – before building the tension up with a long instrumental ending and bringing the first half to an abrupt stop.
After a few seconds of silence Sleep Alone quickly pulls the momentum back in with fast hi-hats, beginning with a stripped down beat which leaves out the keyboards which are such a big part of Beacon’s sound but soon brings them back in again. The first single released from the album, and the only one released before the album itself came out, Sleep Alone feels like the bridge between their debut and second record; other than a short acoustic section it’s the least experimental song here, sticking to the tried and tested TDCC style from before – until the Arcade Fire-style harmonies kick in at the end, reminding you that they haven’t just repeated what made them famous this time around. Bringing in guest singer Valentina for an achingly beautiful chorus, The World is Watching feels like a flipped version of their earlier music – the unusual, jagged chords and precise guitar plucks are softer and gentler than they ever were, the lyrics are openly romantic unlike the vague or pointed ones from before, and the swirling keyboards are a far cry from the occasional hesitant stabs of synth – and the song is all the better for it, drifting along on Valentina’s ethereal voice with a pounding, driving undercurrent from the acoustic drums. Settle starts off even gentler than the last track, resting musicbox-like synths and quiet arpeggios on top of an increasingly dense bassline until it finally explodes into life when the chorus hits. From here on out the song stumbles slightly before it properly clicks, the downbeat tone having fit with the music so far but the combination of the lyrics (“but you only have an amount of time until this place will swallow you whole”) with the joyous, lively drumming feels like a serious mismatch. What does nail the contrast between the tone and the instrumentation is Spring, blending together a nod towards their math-rock roots with an intricate and complex rhythm section and Trimble’s pure, melancholic voice floating above it. Pyramid strikes a very different tone from what’s come before on the album, the cascading guitar line and subtle instrumentation and electronic touches giving it a darker sound before it launches into the chorus – the previously light and airy guitars now hammering away hard over rolling drums – but these parts feel slightly too brief, switching back to the tense verses and to a weird, out of place bridge (“just one dayyyy, is all that we needed…”) quickly before it’s given enough time. The chilled out Beacon is an excellent closing track, drenching the hypnotic beat in echoes before Trimble announces “the beacon light is calling me” and brings in a rush of energy with him. Building back up over layered harmonies and subtle acoustics, the song comes to a close with almost every element from the album (other than the orchestral parts) in a wave of sound before ending with one last synthesised chord.
Far away from the simpler, hyperactive sound of their debut album, Beacon is the sound of a band who have put their all into developing and growing musically – and despite the occasional misstep TDCC go all out with proving just how much they’ve matured.
Genres… electronic rock, dance-punk, indie rock
Best tracks… Next Year, Wake Up, Sun, Someday, The World is Watching, Beacon