Blurryface Blues

Twenty One Pilot’s “Blurryface” dropped in May 2015 and like too many new releases, it flew under my radar. My younger sister informed me of the new release in December when I asked what was playing too loudly from her earbuds. I was surprised, first that my musically ambivalent sister had found music she loved enough to purchase and listen to on the regular and second that I hadn’t heard too much buzz about the album. Twenty one pilots seemed to soar to popularity in 2013 with the release of “Vessel” and success of tracks off the album, like “Car Radio” and “Holding On To You.” I enjoyed the band’s upbeat rapping, catchy choruses and raw feeling, which served as a more lighthearted, pop-inspired version of rap music. Sure, Tyler, the Creator and Kanye West have their places in my heart (and in my iTunes library), but sometimes, I want a more chill option.

“Blurryface” has a decidedly darker vibe, with snappy, bitter lyrics and playful piano and guitar melodies. “Stressed Out,” the most popular track from the album, gained popularity and radio play in the later half of 2015. It currently ranks no. 4 on Billboard’s Hot 100 list, according to their website. Ironically, this track is one of my least favorites off of “Blurryface.” Its chorus is catchy, but the lyrics and sound leave much to be desired. It sounds like too much of what I’ve heard from other top tracks lists and I’m instantly put off by the fact that I’d heard the song before but couldn’t tell that it was one of twenty one pilots’ hits.

Sadly, a number of tracks from this album fall flat to me for the same reason. “Ride” is annoyingly unoriginal, and “The Judge” and “Message Man” are equally unimpressive.

Meanwhile, tracks like “Tear In My Heart,” “Heavydirtysoul,” “Hometown” and “We Don’t Believe What’s On TV” are addictively catchy. “We Don’t Believe What’s On TV” sounds like a fun jam between friends in an indie band, with some of the spirit and soul I’d come to love from this group. “Tear In My Heart” is the clever, catchy love child of Amanda Palmer’s rambling lyrical style and The Killers’ radio-friendly rock sound. I’m not surprised that this track is twenty one pilots’ second most popular single off of “Blurryface.”

In the same vein, I was struck by how much certain songs off of “Blurryface” reminded me of other singer-songwriters I’ve listened to and loved in the past. I don’t mean that in a bad way necessarily. Musicians and bands constantly influence each other, and it’s not uncommon to see similar musical threads in albums that emerge around the same time. That said, a major reason I first enjoyed twenty one pilots’ music was their unique sound.

I’ll give this musical duo credit where they deserve it, though: “Blurryface” incorporates a variety of sounds and styles. At its best, twenty one pilot’s latest release is a fast-paced, fun listen perfectly suited for a morning commute or quick workout sesh. At its worst, “Blurryface” is a letdown from twenty one pilots’ studio album debut, lacking the distinct style and rawness of the group’s original sound.