With the release of their fifth album ‘Keep On Smiling’ – released on September 9 – Northern Irish band Two Door Cinema Club are departing from their better known style of alternative rock. The trio of members Alex Trimble, Sam Halliday and Kevin Baird delve into dance punk territory, highlighted by hearty techno-funk backtracks.
While this experimental new sense of direction driven by electronic beats, 80s pop influences and encouraging lyrics was thrilling to unpack, the repetitive tale of carefree joy ultimately couldn’t be picked up across all twelve tracks. As a result, the album feels shallow and empty by its conclusion, its overly experimental shocking instruments and vague lyrics leaving it with a lack of emotional clarity and depth.
“Keep On Smiling” is almost completed with instrumentals with the first and penultimate tracks, titled “Messenger AD” and “Messenger HD”. The former begins the album with an ominous spiral through drones and dark synths worthy of the “Stranger Things” score – a rather deceptive introduction to an album that is largely bright and vibrant.
The electronic sound is reminiscent of bands such as ODESZA, its futuristic and slightly eerie tone is made clear with the intensity of the synth and frequently fading rhythm. This musical style is maintained throughout the album – many songs feature 80s-style funk synth production.
Although the album sometimes lacks imagination, the heavy use of synthesizers allows the artists to experiment a lot with instrumentals and vocals. This creates a new sound distinctly different from their previous albums which sometimes proves successful. The incorporation of an introspective and almost soothing vocals similar to that of Alan Watts throughout the sixth track “Millionaire” is relatively uplifting and balances well with the song’s other psychedelic layers. The techno-funk instrumentals of the ninth track “Feeling Strange” also complement the track’s title, intentionally and effectively evoking strange drug-induced feelings.
However, these electronic mixtures can also be discordant when mixed in certain combinations. The almost robotic vocals featured in the background of the third track “Everybody’s Cool” — which inconsequentially echo the song’s title several times — seem unnecessarily excessive.
The introduction of autotuned vocals alongside a wall of syncopated electro noise in the tenth track “Won’t Do Nothing” is equally anomalous and offbeat in sound. It’s disappointing compared to the appeal of the song’s retro instrumental track.
The album comes closest to incorporating other styles outside of dance punk in “High” – a breathy, eerie mix of sultry, slow jam and rock ballad. Set to a much slower tempo with calmer instrumentals and more intimate Trimble vocals, track seven attempts to cement itself instrumentally and lyrically in themes of passing time as well as resilience. However, with lines such as “And you’re getting old / But it’s only for a little while” and “Sorry not sorry / Apologies, apologies”, the song is too abstract and has no discernible direction.
The album reaches an apparent finish line with its final two tracks “Messenger HD” and “Disappearer”. “Messenger HD” is airier and less tight than its introductory counterpart “Messenger AD” – perhaps a direct result of the fun that goes on in between.
The minute-and-a-half-long song also introduces a string instrument for the first time on the album, an incorporation that feels out of place but still has a euphoric feeling to it. If “Messenger HD” had been the last song on the album, its dreamy vibe would have brought the record to a close and full circle.
The all-instrumental song is replaced by the final track “Disappearer”, a song that not only spoils the symmetry of the tracklist, but propels an upbeat and joyful musical mood already oversaturated by the album’s previous songs, adding little to the record in his outfit. What looks like a random insertion of the last track, “Disappearer” offers nothing new. It returns to the album’s regular drum beat with Trimble’s vocals once again automatically set and ultimately leaves listeners without a concise ending message.
Most of the tracks seem suitable for driving with the windows down on a hot summer day. This particular sentiment is more successfully and effortlessly conveyed in the album’s promotional singles, “Lucky” and “Wonderful Life”, which are positioned as the fourth and eighth tracks. The lyrics of both songs focus on changing mindsets and turning to the more positive things life has to offer. Alongside a melodic electric guitar sequence, “Lucky” features a particularly memorable chorus with easy-going, harmonious lyrics, proclaiming “We’re running out of luck / I can feel the change / Holding little pieces of what’s left.”
Overall, Two Door Cinema Club’s latest album is undoubtedly uplifting – both lyrically and instrumentally. While the cheerful tone that runs throughout the album certainly evokes positive emotions, the sentiment is dragged on and often feels like an easy escape to delve beyond the superficial lyrics of clichéd euphemisms. His message apart from acceptance of others and hope for the future is unclear.
This lack of clarity stems from the fact that the lyrics are all over the place with meaningful phrases scattered haphazardly, not taking a firm stand on any subject. Additionally, the order in which the tracks are placed relative to each other seems aimless, providing no clear arc or narrative throughout the album. Simultaneously, the catchy tempo of all but two tracks on the album – “High” and “Messenger HD” – makes them hard to tell apart from each other. With “Keep On Smiling” short of emotional depth and thematic message, the album gives audiences an electric adrenaline rush but leaves them unsure of what to do when the smile wears off.