“This is not rap, this is not hip hop, just another attempt to make the voices stop.”
Twenty One Pilots is one of those bands that are hard to define, and their sophomore release, “Blurryface” is no different. After an incredible year with a sold out tour, an appearance on the MTV Movie Awards, followed by festival circuits, it seems that there’s no place for the Ohio alt-pop duo to go but up. Despite the incredible year the Fueled by Ramen band had in the past year, many fans worried that Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun’s second major release would fall victim to the sophomore slump.
The answer is no. (Talk about comeback of the year!*)
Blurryface which has been promoted as a concept album, is no Vessel, but it’s a strong contender that contains many songs sure to join the Clique’s top 10. Catchy hooks and flashy drops keep the album true to the duo’s aesthetic, but as mentioned by Joseph in their recent Reddit AMA, this album was intended to be heard by an audience. Specifically their loyal fanbase, the Skeleton Clique.
Within seconds, Twenty One Pilots’ latest will suck you in. “Heavydirtysoul”, the album’s first track, serves as a great primer for those who are new to the band, and contains a nice surprise for those who have stayed street this past year.
“Heavydirtysoul” is followed by the new theme song for the quarter-life crisis set, “Stressed Out” outlines the anxieties of getting older and wanting to turn back the clocks. “Out of student loans and treehouse homes, I’m sure we’d take the latter,” Tyler raps, before singing wistfully for the ‘good old days.” Us too, Tyler.
The anxieties from “Stressed Out” carry over to the electro-reggae “Ride”, asking “Who would you live for, who would you die for, and who would you ever kill?” Both “Ride” and “Fairly Local”, the album’s promo single, mask introspective lines with upbeat music. While the former draws inspiration from reggae, the latter uses deep drum beats and slick synths, similar to genre fellow AWOLNation.
Five songs in, the mood of the album changes. Though the Korean greeting in the count-in is cringeworthy – is this a callback to tripforconcerts? Who knows! – Joseph’s love song to his other half, “Tear in My Heart” is a bright spot in the darkness. Released just days after Joseph’s wedding, “Tear in My Heart” graphically describes how his defenses were broken down to let her in. While not necessarily a new concept, it’ll probably be the first time you’ll hear the words “butcher with a smile” used in a loving manner. (I apologize in advance to anyone who gets “my taste in music is your face” as a Tinder intro. Like, I’m so sorry.)
Though the mood of the album isn’t any lighter than Vessel, the tearjerkers are few and far between. Though songs like “The Judge” and “Goner” may evoke strong emotion for their own reasons, don’t come into your first listen expecting a song like “Car Radio” or even “Guns for Hands”. The album itself is mostly upbeat, taking cues from 90s alt and dance music, whereas Joseph’s topics of interest for this album veer slightly from their previous major label release, but for the most part, stay on course. For example, controversial song “Lane Boy” calls out those who called out the duo and questioning their authenticity by firing right back at them. Targeting critics who single out their lyrics and Joseph’s rapping, “Lane Boy” addresses their peers in the industry who release “heartless” music, and appropriation with the line “I wasn’t raised in the hood, but I know a thing or two about pain and darkness.” While critics are welcome to argue about privilege and voices as vehicles, Joseph’s straightforwardness in lyricism is commendable.
Favorites on Blurryface will vary from person to person, but “Doubt”, “Polarize”, and “Message Man” received several listens each from me before continuing on. “Doubt” especially, due to its stuttering chorus which had moments reminiscent of Eiffel 65’s “I’m Blue”, and “Message Man” for its big booming chorus.
The Ohio duo’s new sound may be hard to adjust to for fans, but it’s undeniable that Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun’s hearts are still 100% in this. Skeleton Clique, you have nothing to worry about. Stay unlit. |-/
Rating: 4.5/5 Within the first few seconds of the first song, listeners will be able to envision themselves at their local venue seeing the Columbus band live. With very few weak moments, Blurryface is a strong contender for one of the best album releases this year.
Check out the promo singles below.
“Tear in My Heart”