Monday, July 27, 2015

Blurryface | Twenty One Pilots

As an Ohioan, I am no stranger to Twenty One Pilots, the Columbus-based alternative duo composed of Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun. Upon their rise to mainstream popularity, the two have garnered a massive cult following of overly-dedicated fanatics, especially here in the Buckeye State where people pride themselves on being the original fans and mercilessly abuse the stylized "ø" character in their social media handles. (Hell, Twenty One Pilots released an Ohio-shaped vinyl for Record Store Day 2015. That's dedication.) The release of Blurryface, the group's second major-label studio album (fourth album overall), brought fans out of the woodwork - it was nearly impossible to avoid this album online a few months ago. But from the standpoint of somebody who hasn't been sucked into the sea of super-fans, is there any substance behind Joseph and Dun's hype? I would argue that, to a certain extent, there is.

Joseph's strikingly conversational lyrics are complemented by his half-sang, half-rapped delivery. (Think of Kesha's vocal style, but Joseph's is deemed more hipster-chic by Tumblr users because of the duo's lack of ovaries and larger-than-life pop productions.) The album's causal, autobiographical ramblings are its only constant variables, though. While it is protected under the blanket of an "alternative" label with an overall blend of electronic and trip-hop music, the record is a cluttered jungle of different influences that should leave ordinary listeners confused in places. How does reggae slip its way into the grating "Ride"? Why is a stray ukulele the primary fuel for "The Judge"? Why does the duo sound more like Foster the People than themselves on "Hometown"? What made them think that "Goner," a track that is primarily a piano ballad, belongs on the album at all, let alone in the closing spot? There are so many questions left unanswered here, guys.

They may have searched far and wide for influences, but the duo's best cuts are played safe: cue the standout tracks "Fairly Local," "Lane Boy," and "Doubt," perfect melting pots of spacey synthpop and hip-hop with punchy choruses and processed vocals. "Stressed Out" is in a category of its own, with a clean-cut sound and a clearer focus on the vocal talent at hand. A common idiom says, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." The same could be applied to Twenty One Pilots' quirky music; trip-hop fused alt-pop is in the duo's wheelhouse, so why did they stray so far into left field in attempts to seem fresh? More often than not, those stabs at new sounds just backfire anyway. When Joseph and Dun are good, they're great, but when they're anything less than that, they're just forgettable. Blurryface, for better or for worse, has a fair share of both moments.

Blurryface is available now under Fueled by Ramen.

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