With U2 seemingly happily ensconced in a world of corporate irresponsibility and Snow Patrol plotting a downward trajectory, right now Alex Trimble and co can make a good claim to being Ireland’s premier rock act. Like fellow perma-teens Ash, they manage to capture the scrappy, bouncing headrush of being a teenager and channel it into three minute indie-pop songs. Their 2009 debut ‘Tourist History’ took a while to build momentum but heavy touring and a ubiquitous presence in adverts looking to capitalise on the exuberance of youth paid off to the tune of 500 000 sales and the Choice Prize for Irish Album of the Year. Now, the trio of Trimble, Kevin Baird and Sam Halliday have returned with their second record ‘Beacon’, recorded in LA.
First things first: the cover art is atrocious. Second of all: If you really loved their debut feel free to disregard everything I have written below because if you liked that record there will probably be enough sprightly pop songs here to keep you entertained whilst someone finds you a new set of crayons and refills your orange juice. Now let us plunge into the murky depths in search of a ray of light from ‘Beacon’…
This second effort kicks off with ‘Next Year’ on which, predictably, we find Trimble singing about how he’ll be home ‘next year’. Unfortunately this track manages to be doubly annoying thanks to a predictable melody and yet another repeat of the rookie mistake in which a band follow up a relatively original debut with songs about how life on the road is dull and lonely, big cities are big and being away from home sucks. An electronic squawk gives way to some typical We Are Scientists high-string riffage before a big chorus, which aims to fuse the catchiness of ‘Tourist History’ with the epic sweep of ‘rush of blood to the head’ era Coldplay. It’s exactly what you would expect a new TDCC song to sound like and as bland as a glass of water.
The only concession to developing their sound is the presence of real drums, replacing the clean cut drum-machine thump of their debut. Ordinarily I’d praise a band for choosing to create their material organically rather than electronically but by doing so they seem to have exorcised one of the more distinctive elements of their original sound. Otherwise, sonically ‘Beacon’ aims to replicate its predecessor in almost every way. Tracks start out quiet, settle into a bouncy rhythm then hit preppy, peppy choruses over a squirreling Phoenix-esque guitar riff. Even on an album running to just 38 minutes the samey-ness of many tracks is quite noticeable. Song duration ranges from just over three minutes to just over 4 minutes and structures, melodies and lyrical themes all find themselves recycled.
Another problem with ‘Beacon’ is Trimble’s voice. Technically it’s both pure and clear but its capacity to convey grit is pretty much equal to a bucket with a hole. He’s just too clean cut so tracks like ‘Spring’ and ‘Sleep Alone’ come across as shallow, skating on the emotional surface without ever plumbing any true depths. Even alongside female vocalist Valentina on ‘The World is Watching’ there’s a disconnect between the lyrics and any real sentiment. Even the rapid bursts of teenage hyper-excitability that gave ‘Tourist History’ its charm seem to have been exorcised in favour of a more measured middle of the road sensibility.
Even when title track and album closer ‘Beacon’ goes for a slower pace akin to the Maccabees ‘Given to the Wild’ there’s none of that album’s subtlety and shifting dynamics. Overall it’s a disappointing sophomore slump from the young group but it should shift enough copies to buy them another attempt.