Twenty One Pilots is a alternative pop/rock duo based out of Ohio and signed to the legendary emo-pop/punk label, Fueled By Ramen. Their debut, self-titled record was released in 2009, followed by Regional at Best in 2011. However, it was after signing to the aforementioned label in 2012, and the subsequent release of their major label debut, Vessel the following year that the band skyrocketed in popularity.
Tracks like “Car Radio,” and “House of Gold,” took the mainstream by storm, and had the ears of every teen and young adult who had grown up on the music of other Fueled by Ramen artists, like Paramore or Maroon 5, perking up. From here, the duo delivered with 2015’s Blurryface, along with several high energy, and quite impressive live tours. Since then, though, its been all quiet.
That all changed with a cryptic email sent to fans which read, “Are you still sleeping?” Which was quickly followed by the release of two new singles.
The first of these, “Jumpsuit” is dynamic and bass heavy. Tyler’s vocal is a bit mopey, but Josh’s drum work is a consistent highlight throughout, and the nocturnal production really brings out Tyler’s screams in the final chorus.
The B-side of the pair, “Nico and the Niners” is rhythmic and features an interesting, lighthearted guitar part which changes the mood distinctly. The spacey mix takes away from Josh’s drum work a bit, and the lyrics are somewhat nonsensical, but Josh’s vocal, and short rap part is enough to make for another solid single.
The real question is less one of the music’s quality, which won’t be answered until the albums release, but of whether this duo still has a place in the modern scene, or whether they’ve been already confined to their set fanbase after only two studio efforts. So far this year, two label mates, Fall Out Boy and Panic! At The Disco, have released their own albums, with the former being nothing short of mediocre and latter woefully sub-par.
The harder turn toward incorporating rock and alternative elements, as well as the group’s general penchant for experimentation, is encouraging. While Blurryface was a bit too one-note for my taste, and I’ve found myself revisiting the project less and less over the years, their early work only seems to ripen with age. Wide instrument pallets and unique, drum-heavy mixes were staples of the first few albums, and could be utilized well on the upcoming project.
However, the recent work, as well as the growing exclusivity of the fanbase, casts a long shadow. The trap of making music for the fans only, and settling into a comfort zone, is all too easy to fall for, and we’ve seen it happen with virtually every one of their label-mates, save Paramore whose most recent record was a pleasant surprise.
In the end, I think Twenty One Pilots still has something to say. In a mainstream which finds experimentation and genre-bending increasingly palatable, the door is wide open for another hit record. To do this, though, they need to keep pushing themselves. If Blurryface showed us anything, it was the group’s worrying capacity for falling into their comfort zone, and if this record lands within that zone, it could be the end of any credibility they still have with the uninitiated. If Fueled by Ramen follows their normal format, we’ll likely hear more than half of the album as singles before its release, so I’ll keep my ears open, and so should everyone else, for another strong project from the young duo who’s fire may not be out just yet.