Two Door Cinema Club: Lost within their own genre
Although they were relatively unknown for the first several years of their existence, Two Door Cinema Club quickly became a household name within the indie rock scene following the release of their 2010 debut album, Tourist History. Part of what made the Northern Ireland-based group unique was the way they described their music: at the time of their founding, Two Door Cinema Club proclaimed themselves as an “alteronica” band.
If the term “alteronica” doesn’t sound familiar to you, don’t be surprised. Two Door Cinema Club essentially created the genre, and it still really only applies to them (as well as a few other no-name experimental Irish indie bands that one can find while digging through SoundCloud). The alteronica genre can simply be described as alternative and/or indie rock with slight, yet noticeable, influences from electronic music. In Two Door Cinema Club’s case, they use funky and obscure pedal effects to bring lead guitarist Sam Halliday’s creative guitar solos to the forefront. They occasionally use those same effects to accentuate singer Alex Trimble’s vocals (though that should not be misconstrued as Trimble needing the help of special effects, as his vocal range is as impressive as any modern singer). It is also worth noting that, since their inception, Two Door Cinema Club has never had one set drummer; they usually find a drummer willing to play with them during each of their tours, but when recording studio releases, the band utilizes a drum machine. This is a trait Two Door Cinema Club shares with many electronic groups.
The Irish rockers seem to be moving away from that distinctive sound with which they took the music world by storm, however. Following the success of their second full-length studio release, Beacon (2012), the trio– which is rounded out by bassist Kevin Baird– decided to go on hiatus so each could work on solo projects and find inspiration that they could eventually bring back to help produce a third album.
The band reunited in 2015 and then, in October 2016, fans were finally able to hear the results of said hiatus. Unfortunately, Two Door Cinema Club’s third studio release, Gameshow (2016), is not what most were hoping for.
Experimentation and dabbling in other areas of music is certainly not always a bad idea. It can be argued that Two Door Cinema Club is an experiment in and of itself, especially considering the group basically created and pioneered their own genre, a feat that not many other bands have on their mantles. Gameshow, however, with its generic pop sound and strange attempts at mimicking ‘70s disco beats, feels as if Two Door Cinema Club became lost and took a turn in the wrong direction.
Perhaps what made Tourist History such an inviting listen was how it successfully intertwined electronic vibes and the basic qualities of an indie rock piece. “Undercover Martyn,” considered a classic by long-time Two Door fans, features cooing guitar licks from Halliday as well as a synthesizer effect-filled bridge accompanied by palm-muted guitar. “I Can Talk” works in much the same fashion; Halliday shows off his prowess in tremolo picking before an effect-laden bridge and guitar solo bisect the song. “What You Know” and “Cigarettes in the Theatre” both demonstrate Trimble’s impressive vocal range.
These qualities that first drew fans towards Two Door Cinema Club are far more suppressed throughout Gameshow. While Trimble’s moving vocals remain, Halliday’s guitar riffs are replaced for the most part with heavy synthesizer. Two Door has dabbled with synth over the course of their career, with the bassist Baird occasionally dropping his axe in exchange for the keys for tracks on Tourist History (“Eat That Up, It’s Good For You”) and Beacon (“Next Year,” “Handshake,” “Sun,” and “Someday,” among others). We’ve never seen them use synthesizer to Gameshow’s extent, however. Halliday might as well take a seat the album’s first three tracks– “Are We Ready? (Wreck),” “Bad Decisions” and “Ordinary”– as his guitar work his nowhere to be heard. The same goes for the song in the nine spot of Gameshow, “Surgery,” which isn’t much more than static noise.
Beacon, Two Door Cinema Club’s second record, did not garner near the rave reviews of Tourist History, but was still successful in its own right, and that is probably because it at least retained the upbeat tempos and melodies of its predecessor. While Beacon tracks such as “Handshake” and “Pyramid” revealed a slightly darker side of the outwardly friendly trio, it certainly did not seem as if the band was going to follow that theme permanently.
It’s probably inaccurate to say Gameshow is an objectively “dark” album, as there are definitely instances in which a cheerful mood reminiscent of Tourist History makes an appearances, but there’s no denying that there are some strange occurrences throughout Two Door Cinema Club’s third full-length release. The most prominent of these lies within the track “Bad Decisions,” the second single released from the album. The song, whose lyrics suggest sarcastic commentary regarding modern popular culture, features the line “generation, information” quite frequently. It first appears during the second verse amidst the lyric, “Lately / Think I’ve had enough / Of generation, information, every station / And I can’t turn it off.” Seems innocent enough, but still makes the point, right? Apparently Two Door didn’t think so. Thus, they used it for the entirety of the track’s bridge: Trimble, as if he were in a cult, ominously chants “generation, information” seven times– yes, seven– in a row before the song continues on to its final chorus. It certainly gets the point across that Two Door is mocking our generation’s descent of pop culture, but it is all the more ironic that the band has fallen into the same vein they are attempting to critique.
When you’re the creator and pioneer of a genre of music as Two Door Cinema Club is, then you certainly have the flexibility to experiment and expand upon what you’ve engineered. However, if Tourist History and Beacon are “alteronica” music, Gameshow cannot also be considered alteronica. Two Door does deserve recognition for attempting to return from their hiatus with a bang, and, at the very least, they have their fans on their heels wondering which direction the trio will take next. It will be interesting to see whether they return to the roots that garnered them so much success in the early 2010s or if they continue to break away from the very genre that they crafted themselves.