REVIEW: Twenty One Pilots “Blurryface”

Leave it to Twenty One Pilots to leak their own album and release it early. Leave it to them to make it a phenomenal blend of sound that would leave any other musician shaking his head quizzically. Reggae, 80’s pop, ukulele? Rap, electronic, I think the better question is what isn’t there. (Ever been to a baseball game and heard the “Charge” fanfare with an organ? Twenty One Pilots has it.) The band have never been good at sticking with just one genre, and that’s what makes them worth listening to.

“Blurryface” is not an album title. The name is simply the consequence of the entity. It’s a personification, an embodiment inside an agitated swirl of melody and chorus that blends together in a comprehensive cacophony. It’s the lingering antagonist that second-guesses; listen at 1pm and 1am and you’ll discover exactly what Blurryface is—who it is.

Frontman Tyler Joseph is a vocal chameleon. Torrential streams of rap in “Heavydirtysoul” and “Lane Boy” (the former of which is originally street poetry), airy enunciations in “Message Man,” curves of falsettoin “The Judge” and “Not Today,” grainy explosions of screams in “Goner,” bring a maze of melody to the album that complements and enhances the roiling sound it’s over. Each of these entities have their own shape, their own color thrusting against its barriers. The fast-spoken rap is a tumultuous roiling of ashy gray complete with harsh strokes of black that mark the somersaulting sound, whereas slower segments like “Stressed Out” are thin waves of stretched blue, swaying gently but stiffly as cool breaths of air. The rigidity vanishes when Joseph rolls to a clear falsetto in “The Judge,” pale blue ringing a stark bell of contrast. Joseph’s screams rip with black, washed-out orange and fleeting glimpses of royal blue in “Goner.”

Have you ever watched someone do a cannonball into a pool? (Let’s be real, we’ve all had contests.) The subsequent splash is round and hollow while the water blasts outward, raining in a temporary downpour. That’s what Josh Dun’s drumming is like: A heavy center with an aggressive pound that explodes around it. And yet it’s not weighed down by its own capacity, it can’t be contained in galloping tracks like “Polarize” and “Heavydirtysoul.” The thunderous beats are quick jabs of pulsing lines, sometimes harshand always energetic, and other moments they meander lazily across the sound board. Always, though, they are a complimentary heartbeat.

There are moments, however, when you have trouble figuring out what exactly Twenty One Pilots want. While the mix of influence on the record is captivating (and at the very least impressive), sometimes they dip into the pool just quickly enough to dampen before jumping into the next and leaving you confused as to whether you’re warm or cold. You hear the familiar ukulele transitioning into drawling auto tune, swaying piano looping into bass thick enough to be your blanket in the winter, and probing is obvious. It’s not a bad thing per se, and Joseph himself admits in “Lane Boy” that “There are a few songs on this record that feel common, I’m in constant confrontation with what I want and what is poppin’.” But you wonder. Sometimes the album feels like a random compilation of sounds.

The beauty of Twenty One Pilots, however, is that they manage to set themselves apart with the things that should make them similar. You hear the deep voice dotted around the album—Blurryface, rearing his head through the map meant to get you through the maze—a familiar dialect in mainstream hip hop, and yet it’s not the same voice. It rings with motive and hooks the listener enough to keep their finger on the “increase volume” button. If you understand this, and know the story the band is trying to tell through its sound, you will get the full experience of the album.

That said, I’m going to be blunt: For a band that doesn’t want you to cry, they sure do a good job making you cry.

Try winding down your day with “Goner” at 2 am. You’ll see what I mean. Everything you’ve felt—and heard—for the past 40 minutes will reach its zenith, prompted first by the dismal piano intro that reminds you of “Addict With A Pen” and progressing into a drum beat that’s barely audible. The sound waxes and wanes until it finally releases itself with “Don’t let me be gone” ’s fizzling scream. Orange erupts, a new color for a new moment, plunging and tumbling in an agitated riptide that pleads to be remembered while a thunderous backbone punches any remaining air from your lungs. The sound fizzles and explodes rabidly and then ends abruptly on a chilling single note that trembles with black—it’s familiar again, and it’s not a happy ending. Emotional exorcisms simply weaken the things that linger inside us. This is the end of the album but it isn’t the end of Blurryface; in fact, we’ll be seeing it again. Joseph has already warned us of this when he chants on the first track, “Death inspires me like a dog inspires a rabbit.”

Stay alive.