Twenty One Pilots
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Friday, December 11, 2015

50 Favorite Pop Songs of 2015 (Part Two)

40. "Don't Be So Hard on Yourself" by Jess Glynne

All in one sitting, Jess Glynne's debut album gets a bit repetitive. In four minute increments, though, she can create bursts of euphoria. Case in point: "Don't Be So Hard on Yourself." It's a whirlwind of disco and europop production with unbreakable, soul-tinged vocals.

39. "Colors" by Halsey

The new "in" trend is to cyberbully Halsey, one of the most notable breakthrough stars of the year. But let's not let that take away from the quality of her music. "Colors" has been a fan favorite for a while, and for good reason. Perhaps the bridge's cheesy little poem take itself a bit too seriously, but the immersive chorus and pretty, artsy language makes up for that.

38. "Stressed Out" by Twenty One Pilots

Twenty One Pilots managed to capture the spirit of nostalgia and the struggle of growing old in just one song. Trip-hop fused alt-pop is in the duo's wheelhouse, and this song hits the nail right on the head; it succeeds with a good hook, conversational lyrics, and #relatable moments.

37. "Better" by Banks

The fragile upper register, the spooky lower register, the moans, the crackles, the squeals, the incredible, vibrato-rich runs... Everything Banks can do with her voice is breathtaking. While last year's Goddess was incredible in nearly every way and was constructed on murky synthpop and vocal samples, it looks like her second studio album will place even more emphasis on that voice in its natural state. "Better" allows it to shine at the forefront before the song builds into a short-lived climax.

36. "Money All Around" by Holychild

Ironic statements on society are nothing new in music, but Holychild makes them well. Creating their own realm of "brat pop," the duo immerses their ironic lyrics in tidal waves of heavy synthesizers and dance-floor beats -- and "Money All Around" may just be their crowning jewel.

35. "Hymn for the Weekend" by Coldplay
*stream is pitched due to copyright

Chris Martin plus Beyoncé? We must be in heaven. "Hymn for the Weekend" is a deep forest of fun, with Martin and Yoncé's vocals blending like coffee and cream as they sing, "I'm feeling drunk and high / So high, so high / Then we shoot across the sky," over the beat-laden, horn-accented track. 

34. "Bitch Better Have My Money" by Rihanna

I don't care. This thing is a banger, ratchetness and all. It makes more sense in context of the music video, but even without the knowledge of the accountant that bankrupted Rihanna, it's still a badass tune; the whole heavy trap track is sing-shouted and fueled on aggression. It's what we expected from Rihanna -- and it's wanted from Rihanna after that one night stand with an acoustic guitar on "FourFiveSeconds" early this year.

33. "Pity Party" by Melanie Martinez

What is the best way to make your "demented child" schtick seem authentic? Put your own spin on the most notable musical temper tantrum in existence. Melanie Martinez translates elements of Leslie Gore's "It's My Party" into a deep trip-pop meltdown and has the voice to execute the persona perfectly.

32. "Heaven" by Troye Sivan feat. Betty Who

Honestly, this one may be especially important to me as a member of the LGBT+, but that's alright. Troye Sivan's butter-smooth voice glides through the song's lyrics, which zero in on the conflict of interest between living openly as a gay man and subscribing to a religion that could be manipulated to condemn him to eternal damnation. And course, the addition of Betty Who definitely doesn't hurt, either.

31. “WTF (Where They From)” by Missy Elliott feat. Pharrell Williams

In the ten years that Missy Elliott has been gone, plenty of girls have come to fill her shoes -- but their size 7 feet just can't completely fill out Missy's size 12 shoes. At age 44, Elliott is back to show that she hasn't lost her touch with the Pharrell-assisted "WTF (Where They From)." She's still distinctive, she's still on top of the game, and she's still nothing but 100% Missy.

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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Maira Gall