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Album review: Two Door Cinema Club lacks direction in new album ‘Keep On Smiling’

The cover for Two Door Cinema Club’s “Keep On Smiling” features a vibrant illustration featuring four individuals sitting on a bench by the beach. The techno-indie rock group released their fifth album Friday. (Courtesy of Glassnote Records)

“Keep On Smiling”

Two Door Cinema Club

Glassnote Records

Sep. 2

By Chloe Colligan

Sept. 2, 2022 6:01 p.m.

This post was updated Sept. 5 at 9:32 p.m.

Two Door Cinema Club kicked down the door of musical renovation when they probably should have left well enough alone.

With the release of their fifth album “Keep On Smiling,” the three-member band deviates from their more well-known alternative rock style to that of dance-punk, as exemplified by techno-funk instrumentals. Using fast-paced drum and electronic beats as well as encouraging lyrics, Two Door Cinema Club sonically delivers a narrative of carefree joy. However, it lacks emotional clarity and depth due to overly experimental clashing instrumentals and vague lyrics.

 

The 12-track album is uplifting both lyrically and instrumentally, as most tracks feel tailored to driving with the windows down on a hot summer’s day. This mood is conveyed successfully in the album’s promotional singles, “Lucky” and “Wonderful Life.” Both tracks lyrically center on shifting mindsets and ultimately looking toward the more positive aspects of life. Alongside a melodic electric guitar sequence, “Lucky” features a particularly memorable chorus with easygoing, harmonious lyrics.

While the joyful tone running throughout the album certainly evokes positive emotions, this feeling is dragged out and seems like an easy escape from delving beyond superficial lyrics of cliche euphemisms. Furthermore, the album’s message beyond accepting others and holding out hope for the future is unclear. One reason for this lack of clarity is that the lyrics are all over the place with meaningful phrases randomly interspersed, failing to take a firm stance on any matter. At the same time, the upbeat tempo featured in all but two of the album’s tracks makes them hard to differentiate from one another.

[Related: Album review: Maggie Rogers embraces new sound while letting vocals shine in ‘Surrender’]

The closest the album gets to incorporating other moods or styles outside of dance-punk is with “High.” Set to a much slower tempo with quieter instrumentals and more intimate vocals, the seventh track roots itself in themes such as passing time and resilience. However, with lyrics such as “And you get older / But it’s only for a short time,” the track is overly abstract and lacks a clear direction.

The consistent tone for the rest of the album is set with the first track “Messenger AD (Intro),” a fully instrumental song that follows a more electronic sound, reminiscent of bands such as ODESZA. The tone of this song is futuristic and slightly eerie, the intensity fading in and out frequently. This electronic style is maintained throughout the whole album, with many songs featuring an80s-style, funk-synth production.

The synthesizers provide the album with vast instrumental and vocal experimentation, which at times is successful. The incorporation of a voice similar to Alan Watts throughout the track “Millionaire” is relatively inspiring and balances well with the other psychedelic layers of the song. Simultaneously, the techno-funk instrumentals in “Feeling Strange” are complementary to the title, intentionally evoking strange, drug-inducing feelings.

However, these electronic blends can also be jarring at times. The robotic vocals featured in the background of “Everybody’s Cool” – which repeat inconsequential lyrics such as “natural” throughout the song – feel unnecessarily excessive. The introduction of autotuned vocals in track 10, “Won’t Do Nothing,” is equally abnormal in sound and disappointing compared to the appealing retro instrumental backtrack.

[Related: Album review: Tame Impala blends past and future in highly anticipated fourth album]

The album’s final two tracks, “Messenger HD” and “Disappearer,” are perhaps the most experimental yet disappointing of the album. Like the opening track, “Messenger HD” too heavily features instrumentals with the fading lyric “heaven” in the background. The minute-and-a-half-long song brings in a string instrument for the first time on the album, attempting to present a euphoric feeling.

While the instrumentals on this track provide closure and a full-circle ending for the album, there is a random last-track insertion titled “Disappearer.” The record reverts to the album’s steady drum beat with autotuned vocals, ultimately leaving listeners with no concise final message – the last lyric being “A good reason here to disappear.” This final note feels out of place for the more upbeat theme and title of the album, resulting in a perplexingly dark lasting impression.

While the upbeat tempo definitely encourages people to “Keep On Smiling,” Two Door Cinema Club’s latest album ultimately lacks emotional depth and a clear thematic message, leaving listeners unsure of what to do when the smile fades.

 

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Chloe Colligan
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