Artist: Twenty One Pilots
Released: May 17, 2015
Genre: Indie pop / Alternative hip hop
Favorite Song: Hometown
What would you say if I told you I wanted to combine alternative rock, ukulele, and rap with subtle undertones of reggae and ska? Allow me to introduce you to a band that does this much better than I could ever hope to: Twenty One Pilots. The group hails from Columbus, Ohio, and blends all your favorite styles in ways you never dreamed could actually work. I might liken them to Beck, with wild creativity and a strict policy of not adhering to any genre norms, yet still managing to feel relevant and with obvious unparalleled talent. And as if that isn’t enough to intrigue you, their lyrics are creative and clever, often offering a complex introspective philosophy.
This gem of a band belongs to Fueled By Ramen, and have already opened for generational classics such as Fall Out Boy. I had the privilege of seeing them live before I knew who they were and can confirm with utmost joy that their live show is a spectacular thing without all the flashy gimmicks.
Their latest album, Blurryface, is the long-awaited album after their first signed release Vessel, and it is everything I wanted without being very much of what I expected. The album title is a character created by band members Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun to personify insecurities, and Blurryface is a wonderful, angry retaliation against those stifling insecurities.
The album doesn’t allow you to ignore it, opening harshly with Heavydirtysoul, a song that feels simultaneously like a throwback to late 90s grunge and also an homage to AWOLNATION. This song does a good job of introducing the main themes of the album while promising a strange collision of upbeat, movement-inducing tracks with lyrics that inspire a much different emotional reaction.
Ride is the song that first blurred the genre lines for me. Outstandingly catchy (it’s been stuck in my head for two days, now), Ride also seems to have ska punk undertones. Think The Dirty Heads. I am not often terribly impressed by the inclusion of more obscure genres in songs that probably don’t need them, but Twenty One Pilots makes the infusion feel natural. Even followed by the almost industrial single Fairly Local, this song doesn’t feel out of place, which is an accomplishment in and of itself.
The Judge is one of my favorites on the album – the ukulele so famously unexpected in Vessel makes its first appearance of the album in this song. Beyond that, the 90s flashback continues beautifully and Tyler Joseph’s falsetto complements everything so nicely. This is the type of song I want to blast in my car on the way to the beach. This song clearly defines the dueling personality of this album: the unapologetic and carefree, head-bobbing side and the darker, more industrial and alternative side. It’s got a little something for everyone, and it does so while somehow feeling cohesive and complementary. These songs are the types of songs you can dance to or cry at, depending on your mood. And for me, at least, that’s the most appealing thing about Twenty One Pilots; their emotional and musical complexity so beautifully balanced.
The only complaint I have with this entire album is We Don’t Believe What’s On TV, which I felt would be promising but was let down with it being my least favorite on the album. Nothing about it is bad, and it actually feels very Vessel-era Pilots, but I think that’s what makes it feel like it doesn’t quite fit on the album. It’s a perfectly fine song on its own, but I think it may be just a bit too optimistic for the rest of the album.
Despite this slightly out-of-place song, this album is one I couldn’t help but immediately buy on vinyl, and then listen to a few of my favorites on repeat. Blurryface wasn’t really on my radar, but it proved that it should be. It is certainly worth a listen, even if you’re wary of bands who aren’t quite sure what genre they want to commit to. Happy listening, and let me know what you thought in the comments!