Keep On Smiling

Keep On Smiling

Ostensibly, the sun is shining on Two Door Cinema Club. Heralded by lead single “Wonderful Life,” their fifth album is called Keep On Smiling, and its artwork features a vibrantly illustrated beachside scene. It’s an upbeat mood enhanced by plenty of the music here. The Bangor trio continues to find fresh ways to decorate a light base of indie guitar pop with strands of funk, electro, and disco. Recalling early singles “Something Good Can Work” and “What You Know” with its hurtling riffs and ebullient bounce, “Wonderful Life” carries an indelible chorus that counsels letting go of anger. “Everybody’s Cool” is four minutes of glimmering disco escapism, and the striding funk of “Blue Light” celebrates hard-won freedom and change. That spirit is partly a product of the times, with many of the songs written during the early months of 2021. Constraining in so many ways, lockdown did at least offer the band the chance to work without some of the anxieties of deadlines and schedules. “The whole world wasn’t completely open at this point, and I guess we weren’t under serious pressure to do a record from anyone,” bassist Kevin Baird tells Apple Music. “The world had stopped setting targets. We were feeling the same sort of human condition that everyone else was feeling, like, well, whatever, let’s just get through the next couple of months and do something that's like, ‘Well, why the hell not?’ Why don’t I learn to bake some bread? Why don’t we just go and pass around some ideas and write a song?” Much of the record then came together with live dates penciled in the diary and a sense that the world was finally beginning to open up again. But if Keep On Smiling’s brightness is the sound of a band excited to be emerging back into the sunlight after the horrors of the pandemic, it naturally carries some scars and bruises. Liberation and relief have come at a cost, and it’s hard not to discern COVID’s effects imprinted on lines such as “We're having our cake/And eating the big slice/We’ve got the hunger/Without the taste” (“Blue Light”). Edging towards soft-rock balladry, “High” finds singer/guitarist Alex Trimble simmering with frustration as he rues disappeared days and tries to wriggle free of a situation that won’t let him be his true self. On the head-nodding electro-rock of “Lucky,” good fortune is something that can dissipate and break down quickly like so much of modern life—so enjoy it while you can. “We’ve always been at our best when, on the surface, it comes across as extremely bubblegum optimistic, but at the same time, there is a much darker tongue-in-cheek layer beneath,” says Baird. “You can choose to stay on the surface—upbeat music, colorful titles—and escape the crazy world that we live in today. At the same time, if you want to dig deeper, our message is a little bit like the lunatics have taken over the asylum and all there is left to do is smile—perhaps through gritted teeth.”

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