Twenty One Pilots are a band who you either love or hate. With their eclectic mixture of rap, indie pop, drum & bass and punk, the Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun-duo are extremely hard to categorize. Having reached a massive audience in 2013 with their major label debut Vessel, the duo’s fanbase is now expanding even further thanks to sophomore record Blurryface, which this week topped the US Billboard chart. Read on for a full album review.
The record opens with an ambient drone on Heavydirtysoul, which quickly morphs into a two-step drum beat and Tyler Joseph’s rapped vocals. The track subsequently slows down during the catchy chorus as Joseph sings, “can you save my heavy dirty soul from me?” One minute of Blurryface is already testament to the extremely vibrant nature of a Twenty One Pilots song, with the track flittering effortlessly between drum & bass, arena-sized chorus and drawn-out bass riffs. Stressed Out follows, encompassing wobbly synths, a Caribbean-esque keyboard line and further rapped vocals from Joseph. “Wish we could turn back time to the good old days” begins Joseph during the chorus, before an eerie melody line precedes the second verse. The track is more downbeat than Heavydirtysoul, focussing more on personal lyrics and an emphasis on the Blurryface character. The concept of Blurryface is one which pops up throughout the record, as well as during the promotional campaign. “My name’s Blurryface, I care what you think” sings Joseph, before Ride makes for one of the best moments on the album. Josh Dun’s slower, one-two drum beat holds the track together alongside a dark, brooding bass line. “I’m falling, so I’m taking time on my ride” proclaims Joseph during a chorus which is sandwiched between verses that carry an extremely rhythmic vibe. The track builds up over its course, culminating in an absolutely massive ending which sees Joseph’s vocals soar emphatically. “I’ve been thinking too much” he sings during the breakdown, switching between his regular voice and a falsetto-like tone. Fairly Local proceeds to add a dirty club groove to proceedings, encompassing a whole load of nightlife swagger and club synths. “I’ve seen the street’s you’re walking down” states Joseph during the chorus, with the rest of the track switching between stop-start drum beats, dirty bass and club-ready synths.
Lead single Tear in My Heart brings the album back to an upbeat pace, with happier sounding piano chords and synths intertwining during its anthemic chorus. “The songs on the radio are okay”, sings Joseph during the verse, adding, “but my taste in music is your face” in a remarkably odd (but unsurprising) moment. The track really comes to life from its bass-led breakdown onwards, with massive synths sending the track towards a calm ending. Lane Boy sees the return of a distinct Caribbean groove, something which is emphasized by a plucked melody and Josh Dun’s sublime drumming. “You should stay in your lane, boy” commands Joseph during the chorus, making good use of his extremely laid-back vocal tone. The track changes tack roughly halfway as grizzly synths enter the frame and morph the track into a drum & bass banger, complete with robotic voices, distorted bass and two-step drumming. Album highlight The Judge follows, bringing the first hints of Joseph’s popular Ukelele into the frame. The Judge is by far one of the most radio-friendly songs on the record, featuring an opening vocal salvo of “na na na na, oh oh”. Its chorus sees Joseph crank up the vocals to falsetto level, as he asks, “you’re the judge, oh no, set me free” in a blissfully poppy manner. The track subsequently builds up, with extra layers being added throughout. Towards the end, a lone piano takes the lead and makes way for a massive ending where all the instruments come together as one ubiquitous whole.
Doubt brings the album over the halfway line with club synths, dark grooves and anxiety-centred lyrics which make for an RnB-flecked chorus. Doubt’s instrumental is the kind of the song which 50 Cent would’ve made use of in his mid-2000s heyday, although now Twenty One Pilots are taking it and adding their own twist to it. Polarize follows up with more RnB drumming and a fast paced synth/piano combination during the first verse. Handclap beats hold the track together, before synth-heavy the chorus goes through various stop start moments. A funk-laden bassline enters the frame just after the halfway, before Joseph’s vocals build up in vocal intensity and bring the track towards a strong ending. There’s one thing which pops up often during this album, and it’s the intense power that Tyler Joseph’s voice beholds. His voice is a whole new instrument altogether, something which We Don’t Believe What’s On TV further demonstrates with fast-paced drums and ukulele. It’s one of the catchiest songs on the album, taking plenty of hints from Vance Joy’s hit Riptide. Its closing section is nothing less than anthemic, with Message Man changing tack and going for an extremely groove-laden synth/drum combination. The rhythmic bassline is what underpins it all, yet the main focus of the track is clearly on the Caribbean sounding synth line it possesses. “How can you sleep at a time like this?” raps Joseph during the breakdown, before asking for discretion to be used when “messing with the message man”.
Hometown, the 12th track on the album, is probably the weakest song on Blurryface, making use of a lot of drawn-out elements which have been far better utilized on earlier tracks. It does, however, bear a chorus which sounds as much serious and downbeat as it does upbeat and catchy. “Spirits in the dark are waiting” claims a falsetto-d Joseph post-chorus, before penultimate album track Not Today encompasses an organ to hold the track together. This track, if anything, demonstrates the bi-polar aspect of Twenty One Pilots’ music, flittering between simple handclap beats, organs and stop-start dramatic moments. Album closer Goner brings everything back down to earth, with a simple piano and vocal combination bearing most of the responsibility. “I’m a goner, somebody catch my breath” asks Joseph multiple times during the track, before drums faintly build-up alongside ambient noises, adding some extra layering to the track. Goner also sees the return of the Blurryface character, with Joseph claiming, “Blurryface is the one, I’m not” before asking for him to be taken out. It’s at this moment that Goner builds up and Joseph’s vocals hit an all-time intensity high, with his goosebump-inducing scream of, “don’t let me be gone” bringing Blurryface to an ear-shattering finale. Pounding drums, ambient wails and storming piano bring the track and album to a subsequent end.
On Blurryface, Twenty One Pilots have proven themselves to be an incendiary, unstoppable force. The record switches between so many different styles and genres at such a rapid pace that it’s sometimes hard to keep up. Blurryface has already the #1 spot in America, with the rest of the world likely to follow suit one day. Look out world, Twenty One Pilots are coming.
Blurryface is out now via Fueled by Ramen/Warner.