Ohio-born duo Twenty One Pilots have been incredibly successful; soaring straight to the heights of alternative-rock royalty over just two years. Their 2013 major label debut Vessel shook the genre and has introduced an astonishing lyrical honesty to bittersweet, upbeat music. The duo’s recent release Blurryface is a natural progression of its predecessor: the captivating, more mature brother of an already polished sound.
Alike to their previous release, Blurryface takes an offbeat, transgressive approach to alternative music. Twenty One Pilots’ genre is often quoted as “schizophrenic pop,” and this is probably the most accurate description we’ll find: these guys are no strangers to taking risks. Blurryface boasts influences from polar ends of the music industry: “Lane Boy” with its strong Reggae vibes, “Tear In My Heart” which follows a standard pop formula (albeit immensely successfully), and the darker “Goner” which is reminiscent of Vessel’s “Truce.” Ultimately, with the exception of “Doubt” and “Polarize” which transition near-seamlessly, each track has it’s own distinct identity. It’s an ambitious design, but with Tyler Joseph’s vocals and Josh Dun’s impressive drumming, it’s no surprise they pulled it off flawlessly.
Although Joseph’s accessible, sincere lyrics remain the focal point of the band in this new era, there is a distinctive shift in the subject of Blurryface tracks. Whereas Vessel largely contains references to Joseph’s struggles with mental health issues and nods to political issues, Blurryface sees the pair write songs about love—‘Tear In My Heart’—whilst retaining the intimacy of their previous releases. Blurryface is a medley of bittersweet tracks about love, life, and the ever-increasing fear of growing up. At first listen, the album may seem a lighthearted alternative to ‘Vessel’—with the obvious exception of ‘Goner’—but Joseph dismisses this generalisation within “Not Today”: “This song’s a contradiction because of how happy it sounds, but the lyrics are so down.”
Ultimately, Blurryface is an incredibly intelligent album, and one full of overarching messages, sincerity, and intent. The title alone was chosen carefully; highlighting one of the release’s most intricate components: the character of ‘Blurryface.’ This is a reoccurring element throughout both Joseph’s lyrics, and the album’s music videos. “My name’s ‘Blurryface’ and I care what you think” / “I’ve got two faces, blurry’s the one I’m not” Joseph exclaims within ‘Stressed Out’ and ‘Goner’ respectively. This figure, however, doesn’t only appear within these lyrics and the album title. A few of the tracks—‘Stressed Out,’ ‘Fairly Local,’ and ‘Lane Boy’—all contain sections performed in a deeper voice. It seems from the projection of these vocals within their music videos—Joseph’s red eyes within ‘Fairly Local’ in particular—that this may the voice of ‘Blurryface.’ Twenty One Pilots have created a puzzle within their album which, when uncovered, presents a character who may be the self-conscious embodiment of a persons stress, anxiety, and depression. Even at a glance, Blurryface radiates a complex, personal intricacy that’s often lacking in modern music.