It’s time for another trawl through the list of indie also-rans still releasing new music, and we’ve got a real treat this time, folks – a band who actually made some longstanding impression on the scene as a whole. Around a decade ago, Two Door Cinema Club were the band to beat, with Tourist History being 2010’s hot indie debut in its nerdy, jittery popwork, and spawning singles like Something Good Can Work and Undercover Martyn that are indie-club staples to this day. And then, just like with any boom, Two Door Cinema Club’s inevitable bust was soon to follow, with Beacon being the well-received but comparatively weaker follow-up, and Gameshow being the third effort that no one really cares to remember. Thus, for album four Two Door Cinema Club stand as the familiar sight of an indie band just trying to scramble together momentum however they can, and to their credit, False Alarm looks to be taking some big strides to achieving that. Credits from beloved underground rapper Open Mike Eagle and Zimbabwean funk group Mokoomba seem far out of this usual reach, but they could at least imply a shift that’ll get things moving, even if, given the calibre of so many other albums in this exact position, that judgement is profoundly up in the air.
And to an extent, it does feel like False Alarm is worthy of being given the benefit of the doubt for the most part. There’s clearly been a safety net propped under the trio here, as they’ve slid over to a tighter, more bass-driven brand of ‘80s pop that’s always going to go down well, especially in indie-pop, but it’s unquestionably better than the majority of the output from similar indie no-marks over the past couple of years. It’s a backhanded compliment, certainly, but it still stands; there’s actually a bit to enjoy about this album, even if it doesn’t extend beyond a handful of surface levels, and any further examination reveals just how zeroed in on their own leverage Two Door Cinema Club are. Even so, it’s a start, and regardless of how safe its decisions can often feel, they’re the sort that lean into the band’s strengths enough to make for a somewhat enjoyable listen all the same.
Having said that, it also leads to a point on False Alarm where any threats to get a bit weirder or off the beaten path either don’t amount to all the much or end up as some fairly noticeable dips in momentum. A prime example comes in the case of the guest appearances, with Open Mike Eagle’s verse on Nice To See You serving as a solid change of pace but nowhere near his best in terms of lyrical dexterity which could’ve made this track something pretty special, and Mokoomba being thrust all the way to back of Satisfaction Guaranteed to the point where calling them backing vocalists would probably be overly generous. Of course, Two Door Cinema Club themselves aren’t without fault here, with the blocky plods of Think and Already Gone and the overweight burbles of synth that clog up Break taking the sleek direction that goes down so smoothly elsewhere and throws it clear out the window. When it comes to focusing on simplicity and what does work, though, it makes it evident how narrow the window of opportunity for Two Door Cinema Club is here, especially in lyrical conceits that display a confidence that’s certainly admirable (particularly when Alex Trimble is nothing close to a powerhouse vocalist), but are all too ready to default to platitudes of social media being bad with no backbone to hold them together. At least False Alarm isn’t an album that rests on these themes as heavily as, for example, The 1975’s A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships and can afford to be a little less incisive, but when that can be seen as trimming everything down beyond what’s engaging, it can lead to an album that, in the long run, can feel a bit too ephemeral to do all that much.
Of course, the pop streak can hit its mark, and when it does False Alarm is probably the closest to the kinetic, hyperactive energy that brought Two Door Cinema Club into the spotlight all those years ago. It’s primarily been repurposed here into a slick throwback sound, but when the melodies and progressions feel as tight and punchy as they do, it really can feel like a galvanisation of this band that’s much appreciated. The roiling, percussive Once and the kitschy, gummy funk of Talk that open up the album give a good indication of what to expect, and at the instances where the hardest-hitting pop beats are funnelled and condensed, the results remain consistently likable, offering indie snappiness that’s perfectly suited to the modern day but augmenting them with tasteful glimpses of the past. It’s not like Two Door Cinema Club’s sonic touchstones are all that well-masked either – Dirty Air plays out like any number of whooping, strutting new wave tracks, while the synth that anchors Satellite has the fingerprints of acts like The Human League all over it – but they’re utilised rather well, and pared back to an EP of its absolute best moments, False Alarm would undoubtedly be an indie highlight for 2019.
Sadly it’s not, and the extent to which Two Door Cinema Club paint themselves into a corner in terms of creative pliability proves to be the main culprit for that. It goes without saying that False Alarm is leaps and bounds ahead of so many other prospective indie revivals, simply through having the initiative to try and do something instead of keeping to such an uninspired path, but they’re still not at a point where they’ve reached an adequate benchmark for their ideas that they can play to for a whole album. It makes False Alarm feel largely unfocused and scattered, throwing in some good ideas but struggling to build on them to any decent extent, and feeling more like a collection of singles with the rest of the filler being clearly designated. But it’s an improvement all the same, and for a band like Two Door Cinema Club whose larger appeal has never been all that particularly evident, to see them coming out with something of quality is at least a satisfying development.
For fans of: The Wombats, Friendly Fires, Phoenix
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘False Alarm’ by Two Door Cinema Club is out now on PIAS.