Up-and-coming Ohio band Twenty One Pilots deliver a tour de force on their ambitious second LP, ‘Bluryface.’
Sometimes the best albums come out of left field. Such efforts are free-spirited and devoid of conformity. For burgeoning alternative duo Twenty One Pilots, 2015 is The year the Ohioan collective breaks through. Critical soundness isn’t always equivalent with commercial lucrativeness, but the superb Blurryface is too good for folks to deny. Twenty One Pilots deliver a tour de force on their ambitious second LP.
“Heavydirtysoul” opens Blurryface bursting at the seams with energy. A tone setter, there is heaviness about the opener despite how delightful a listen it is. Tyler Joseph kicks of the standout rapping with incredible agility, establishing a cool swagger. He contradicts his ‘hard’ perceptions with lyrics like “this is not rap, this is not hip-hop” and later the sung vocals “Gangsters don’t cry / therefore, therefore I’m Mr. Misty eye…” The chorus becomes a humble, spiritual petition:
“Can you save my heavy dirty soul?”
This references Joseph’s religious background, specifically his self-acknowledged imperfections.
On “Stressed Out,” Joseph seeks escapism by reminiscing on the simpler times of his childhood – heady stuff right? For the first time, “Blurryface,” a character constructed by Joseph seems to represent Tyler’s flaws and insecurities. Blurryface, as portrayed on “Stressed Out” represents vulnerability, something that many people can relate to but few depict as freely as Joseph does here.
“Ride” switches up the style to reggae-infused pop. Like previous cuts, Joseph sings and raps, handling both capably. The chorus has an element of psychological means, but also delivers one of the most epic moments of the album:
“I’m falling so I’m taking my time on my ride.”
The pivotal line of “Ride” comes by way of “I’ve been thinking too much / help me,” a statement suggesting Joseph and his mind is his own undoing. Specifically that mind is character, Blurryface.
“Fairly Local” keeps the hits rolling, benefiting from electro-centric production and ‘trap’ drum programming. Continuing an introspective approach, Joseph characterizes himself as “evil to the core / what I shouldn’t do I will” in one breath. In another breath, he states:
“I’m not evil to the core / what I should do I will fight.”
Putting the ‘schizoid’ in ‘schizoid pop,’ “Fairly Local” is a testament to the artistry, which Twenty One Pilots have to offer.
“Tear In My Heart”
“Tear In My Heart” contrasts the minor key of “Fairly Local” in favor of the jubilance of major. The chorus is infectious, while Joseph’s vocal performance is spot-on. The best moment is the ‘off-beat’ bridge about potholes of all things:
“You fell asleep in my care I drove the whole time / but that’s okay I’ll just avoid the holes so you sleep fine / I’m driving here I sit / cursing my government / for not using my taxes to fill holes with more cement.”
So, do the potholes really matter? No. Joseph seems to be referencing his dedication to his wife and not allowing his idiosyncratic tendencies to ruin his relationship. After all:
“She’s the tear in my heart / take me higher / than I’ve ever been.”
“Lane Boy” presents a reggae-infused alternative-pop sound (mouthful), definitely unlike the majority of music that dominates the industry or people’s playlists. The chorus gives a middle finger to conventional approaches to music, life, and everything:
“They say ‘stay in your lane, boy, lane, boy / but we go where we want to.”
In reference to the ‘conventional,’ Joseph reveals a disdain for unoriginality in pop music:
“Regardless, all these songs I’m hearing are so heartless.”
Like “Heavydirtysoul,” Joseph is quick to denounce he’s from the streets on “Lane Boy” (“I wasn’t raised in the hood”). Nonetheless, he understands hardship:
“But I know a thing or two about pain and darkness.”
“The Judge” contrasts everything else, featuring ukulele. Joseph’s pipes reach new heights literally as his falsetto is as “sweet as syrup.” Like many songs from Blurryface, the bridge is a key section – transformative in this particular instance. “Doubt” once more delves into spirituality, with Joseph expressing his unworthiness and flaws. Reference to religion is apparent from the first verse (“Scared of my own image”). Despite his lack of worth and doubt, he asks:
“Don’t forget about me / don’t forget about me / even when I doubt you / I’m no good without you.”
“Polarize” features some of the most adventurous production of Blurryface, which definitely matches the song title. Morality and spirituality play a gargantuan role once more, as Joseph continually iterates the line, “Wanted to be a better brother, better son,” which suggests there are regrets if the line is read literally. In the most general sense, this is another introspective piece and while it may be personal to the front man, it is definitely relatable to the listeners – everyone has made mistakes, sinned, and not been the best they could be at some point in their lives.
“We Don’t Believe What’s On TV” is about reality versus dreams and ultimately, “We have all learned to kill our dreams.” Interpreted slightly different, Twenty One Pilots could be suggesting that even though television and people seem to present a certain façade, judging merely ‘what you see outwardly’ without peering deeper doesn’t present a whole, accurate picture. Another component of “We Don’t Believe What’s On TV” is one of long-term loyalty, where Joseph states:
“I need to know / that when I fail you’ll still be here / cause if you stick around, I’ll sing you pretty sounds.”
With depth being the M.O. of Blurryface, “We Don’t Believe What’s On TV” is no different.
Psychology remains in play on “Message Man,” where using “discretion when you’re messing with the message, man” seems like sound advice. The mind is a dangerous thing, and as Twenty One Pilots have emphasized throughout Blurryface, it can break you down something terrible. “Hometown,” another interesting track, is filled with double meanings – at least ‘on paper.’ In its most literal sense, Tyler Joseph seems to be referencing his actual “hometown” is as confused psychologically and emotionally as he is, hence everyone has a “dark” place or dark facets within him or her.
Penultimate number “Not Today” definitely plays “mind games,” as Joseph refers to himself (or ‘Blurryface’) in second person. Ambitious, “Not Today” sounds like nothing else on Blurryface. Final song “Goner” marks the death of Blurryface, hence Tyler’s acceptance of his new, better self.
Overall, Blurryface ranks among the year’s most thrilling, stimulating albums. Twenty One Pilots never settle, always delivering their brand of music that transcends labels. As consistent as the entirety of the album is, the first sextet of songs is nothing short of ‘fire.’ Don’t sleep on Twenty One Pilots’ Blurryface – you’ll regret it!
Gems: “Heavydirtysoul,” “Stressed Out,” “Ride,” “Fairly Local,” “Tear In My Heart” & “Lane Boy”