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An Old Fogey's Twenty One Pilots Take

Updated: May 25

My plan as I began a blog focused primarily around Columbus music was that I’d begin with the higher-profile stuff - label releases from the bigger names. Of course, for most casual music fans even that stuff is relatively obscure. I also intended to approach it more from a historical perspective than from a critical or “best of” approach. However, when I happened to notice that Twenty One Pilots are releasing their sixth album this week, I thought it would be an interesting diversion to delve into a brand new release from likely the most commercially successful band to emerge from good ole Cbus.

Twenty One Pilots

Scaled And Icy

Fueled By Ramen - 2-659071

2021


Even as a rabid music fan, I tend to tune out new music and music not aimed at my demographic. I have to actively resist the instinct to not take it seriously. It’s not just because I’ve developed a pretty good sense of what I’ll like and where I can find it, in a world where virtually the entire catalog of recorded music is available at the click of a button, it’s overwhelming to try to keep up. And I’ve never been one to obsess over discovering what’s new or groundbreaking. If I haven’t heard it before, it's new to me regardless of when it may have been recorded. That said, even a casual music fan is probably at least aware of Twenty One Pilots. I first paid attention after hearing the Grammy-winning “Stressed Out” and its self-deprecating lyrics about the stresses of growing up “caring what people think” with its earworm hook. It was different to my ears, as I tried to imagine Led Zeppelin singing about being insecure and the “good old days when our momma sang us to sleep.” For the record, I’m not in the camp that feels like Millennials are just self-absorbed narcissists. This is a particularly difficult time to grow up in. I think the next generation's openness about who they are and their efforts to destigmatize mental health issues is a big plus for our society.


Not only are these guys huge (billions of YouTube views, two singles in the top 5 in the same week, a Grammy) but they proudly wave the Columbus flag, often recording their videos here. In fact, one of our good friends was the production manager for The Hype video and asked if she could borrow some of my wife’s music gear for the shoot, which is the story of how Elisa’s guitars and amp ended up in the video. These guys are ambassadors and respect their roots: “I think we were influenced by the scene here in Columbus just because of how many different types of bands we played with,” explains Joseph. “We’d find ourselves one day on a hip-hop bill, then on a pop-punk bill, then on more of a metal bill. We realized we didn’t really have a group of people that we belonged to, but at the same time, everyone we rubbed shoulders with became a part of who we are.”


The album was released with an elaborate live stream Friday night. I didn’t see it, but from the detailed Billboard recap, it sounds like it was interesting and unique. I learned some things, like Twenty One Pilots fans are called the Skeleton Clique.


So how is the album? I’m more of a rock and jazz guy, but I can get into this more than most modern pop and alternative. What stands out to me is the soul-baring lyrics and beat-centric hooks. Check out the video for “Choker” as Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun begin in the Big Fun toy shop and run around the Short North. Reviews are mostly positive so far, with a 76 on Metacritic. Like anything, I’ll have to hear it a lot more to form a solid opinion. You can hear some old school influences from across the map, like what Billboard calls the “Supertramp-ish” Mulberry Street, which to me also has some Coldplay feel. Choker is arena-ready and catchy with trademark self-effacing lyrics. I hear a little Tame Impala in Shy Away. Never Take It brings some rock with a timely lyric about misinformation being weaponized, division profiteering, and the importance of educating yourself.


I’m just psyched for the success these guys have found. One of the things I find endlessly fascinating about music is the mystery of the chemistry within a band and how and why it sometimes connects to a fan base. Twenty One Pilots seem to have had an energetic and entertaining stage show from the get-go and their catchy and honest, unpretentious lyrics have connected. They’ve also excelled at marketing themselves in the streaming era with complex storylines, hidden meanings, and easter eggs rewarding the obsessive. The limited-edition box set for Scaled And Icy comes with stickers, pins, a bandana, a toy dragon, and more. They’re on the cover of New Musical Express. It’ll be interesting to see what the future holds for Twenty One Pilots.


A still from The Hype video with Elisa Nicolas' gear


1 Good Day

Bass – Mike Elizondo

Trumpet – Steve Patrick

Violin – Brittany Haas

2 Choker

3 Shy Away

4 The Outside

5 Saturday

6 Never Take It

7 Mulberry Street

Bass – Mike Elizondo

Trumpet – Steve Patrick

8 Formidable

Guitar – Tyler Joseph

9 Bounce Man

10 No Chances

11 Redecorate

  • Phonographic Copyright (p) – Fueled By Ramen, LLC

  • Copyright (c) – Fueled By Ramen, LLC

  • Record Company – Warner Music Group

  • Recorded At – Phantom Studios, Gallatin TN

  • Mastered At – Sterling Sound

  • Designed At – Tnsn Dvsn

Credits

  • A&R – Pete Ganbarg

  • Co-producer – Paul Meany (tracks: 11), Tyler Joseph (tracks: 11)

  • Creative Director [Creative Direction/Video] – Mark Eshleman

  • Creative Director, Design, Art Direction – Brandon Rike

  • Drums – Josh Dun

  • Engineer – Lawson White (2)

  • Engineer [Assistant] – Erica Block, Zachary Stokes*

  • Engineer [Drum Engineering] – Josh Dun (tracks: 2, 8), Matt Pauling (tracks: 2, 6)

  • Executive-Producer – Chris Woltman, Tyler Joseph

  • Management – Chris Woltman

  • Mastered By – Chris Gehringer

  • Mixed By – Adam Hawkins

  • Performer [Twenty One Pilots Is] – Josh Dun, Tyler Joseph

  • Photography By – Ashley Osborn

  • Producer – Mike Elizondo (tracks: 1, 7), Tyler Joseph (tracks: 1 to 10)

  • Producer [Additional Production] – Paul Meany (tracks: 5)

  • Vocals – Tyler Joseph

  • Vocals [Additional] – Jenna Joseph

  • Vocals [Group Vocals] – Jay Joseph (4) (tracks: 6, 9, 10), Kyle Schmidt (3) (tracks: 6, 9, 10)

  • Written-By – Tyler Joseph




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