Album Review REWRITE: BlurryfaceWonkeyDude98 Mini-Description: In my twenty-fourth and a half album review, I revisit one of my worst reviews for the sake of twenty-øne piløts using self-awareness to fuel one of the best albums of all time, let alone 2015.
Best Songs: "Fairly Local", "HeavyDirtySoul", "Hometown", "Doubt" ft. LunchMoney Lewis, "Ride", "Goner", "Tear In My Heart", "Not Today", "The Judge", "Polarize", "Message Man", "We Don't Believe What's On TV", "Lane Boy"
Worst Song: "Stressed Out"
It should be no surprise I'm doing this. My original review was terrible, mostly because without the knowledge that this site absolutely hates this band, I didn't feel the need to give myself legs to stand on. Here, I'm about to change that.
twenty-øne piløts are possibly the most polarized band currently working today. Admit it; you either love them or hate them. And yeah, I'm a fan. From their self-titled debut that, while not the most vocally refined, was absolutely dripping with emotion, to their sophomore Regional At Best (which was the best thing they did until this) which was far less fat and arguably even more emotionally vast, seriously that album's near a classic.
Then there was Vessel. Don't get me wrong, it's a great album, potentially one of the best of 2013, but it added absolutely nothing good to compensate for the fact that the only reason it was great is by biting off of Regional At Best. It retook the sloppy, awkward performances of Self-Titled, without having as much emotional payoff (I'm speaking ONLY for the new songs besides Migraine and Truce).
But here's a confession: I'm what most fans of this band would call a "fake fan". I first heard of them through Stressed Out on my quest to getting music taste, and I remember liking it, but not loving it. Then I started noticing that "wow, a lot of people seem to like this band by mainstream standards". So I decided, whatever, and checked out their latest album Blurryface. Did it deliver?
Well....duh. Of course it did! Of course I still love Self-Titled, Regional At Best, and Vessel, but the improvements universally are almost a different artist altogether! Easily the best pop album of 2015, it was close to the best album of that year period! How did that happen?
Well, let's take a look at the obviously most improved area: Tyler Joseph himself. Now, in the past, I'll admit he has charisma and emotional range, but his vocal tone can seem pretty awkward. He sounded very much behind his age, so to speak. And while that was occasionally charming, more often than not it was kind of grating.
With this album, Tyler's fixed that entirely. His voice is considerably more naturally thick and mature, he has much more bass (even with exceptions like on Ride), and his charisma has not fallen away as the rough edges are scraped off his voice. As a result, the screaming is for the most part vastly turned down, but they're still there enough to give Joseph even more of a personality.
And speaking of personality, the instrumentation and production has vastly improved from the last three albums as well. Now, twenty-øne piløts' biggest problem was, in fact, their production. They used a lot of electronic-but-not-really- dance beats when they didn't have downbeat piano ballads, and the occasional ukulele disaster (looks at Screen). However, they had a pretty tight budget and not a ton of experience, so often these synths went haywire into a very thin and chintzy gray zone that often ran together, especially without a lot of lower tones.
On Blurryface, not only is there significantly more outright diversity, both tonally and emotionally, but the mid-range and bass are significantly more fleshed out, making the album have a lot more atmosphere and texture. Their genres here are very all-over-the-place and messy, but somehow still ridiculously cohesive, spanning arctic hip-hop, piano pop-rock, reggae, soul, melancholy trap, and so much more, all pulling it off in a grandeur, really quite lovable fashion.
And of course, all the individual compositions are awesome. The shrieking wobble of the synths that careen off of complex drumming and bleak pianos on HeavyDirtySoul balanced by some truly beautiful guitar swell, the dissonant peripheral keys and pianos balanced by smooth, quick drums, a shifting bass, and a spacey, long synth on Stressed Out, -- that did run pretty cold, to be fair, and also pitch shifting. Easily the weakest song here -- and the reggae guitars matched by huge buzzing synths, whirring bass, and exploding percussion on Ride, these are all three vastly different styles, all performed spectacularly.
And that's not even getting to the highest point on the album Fairly Local, easily the darkest and most punishing song twenty-øne piløts has ever recorded. The shroud of cloudy and well-balanced reverb offering even more of a chill for punchy, icy synths accentuating the glitchy skittering melody complete with bombastic, symphonic arrays of strings, and that's just the higher layer. When you dig into the deeper core of the mix, you notice elements that elevate this even higher than just the melodies. The syncopated pianos on the first prechorus, the haunting Blurryface vocals on the second prechorus, the slick hi-hats and quick drums, and most of all the BASSWORK. The walls of growling bass send the song into absolutely gigantic territory, combined with the percussion careened off of by a titanic wall of gritty bass strings, it's a frigid, gothic crunch of a song that's an absolute blessing to have on the album.
And yeah, the album mellows down from there. Tear In My Heart is a very broad, happy piano-driven song with great bass guitar and an amazing synth crescendo. From there we return to the reggae influences in the guitars and horns splitting Lane Boy, that builds into a spectacular electronic groove. Then we get the longest song on this album The Judge, a song that shows that even ukuleles can sound like something that isn't hackery, as it's accompanied by the swells of wind, fast-paced groove, and organ that drives the well-placed tempo shift.
Then there's Doubt, a song that still gives me goosebumps to this day, mostly by taking a more mechanical, soft approach with the autotune desaturation, oily meow-like synths, and punchy bass strengthened by the multitracked pianos and the gang vocal-heavy outro. It's an almost overly conventional song that still has its own personality, and I can't ignore that.
The grief seems to shift in tone on Polarize, where the darker keys and glitchy layers of synth sound very bright, but have an off-kilter effect to them that makes the light seem that much more shaded. This darkness is mostly preserved and neglected on the fast-paced We Don't Believe What's On TV, restoring the ukuleles from earlier, but adding a large layer of bass and some truly fantastic horn accents.
The ethereality returns on Message Man, a song that actually took a while to grow on me. For all the gleaming layers of synth, sprinkling keys, and frigid drums, I couldn't get past the beeping synths on the bridge for a while, only until recently could I do that, as well as having pointed out the smolder of guitars and the amazing swell of what sounds like theremins on the outro.
And then we come to what's probably the most conventional sounding song on the album with Hometown, which somehow ends up being one of the greatest moments in pop of the entire year. An 80s-inspired synthpop track that's touched with reverb throughout, sprinkling a pretty dark atmosphere of Tyler's willowy lower range, grand piano, wiry synths, and a guitar on the chorus that explodes into one of the most satisfying drops ever recorded, it is absolute perfection to music.
And it's evident what twenty-øne piløts wanted as the last songs on this album, with Not Today being a meticulous blend of crackling bass, some of the most complex drum work in pop music, low pianos, and an anthemic chorus with great staccato guitars and horns that crescendo into a truly fantastic groove. This plunges into the closer of the album, Goner. An earnest piano ballad that doesn't build to much beyond the jingling until the second half of the song, where the guitars and drums blare elevating the piano to new heights and Tyler screams his lungs out, easily the most human moment on the album, and a phenomenal way to end the album.
Now, it's not all perfect. Again, I do wish Stressed Out was a little warmer, and I wish the bass was allowed to flourish a bit more on songs like Ride, Lane Boy, and Hometown, but this band has made an album that's really something incredible, with the tones having so much flare and being so bright and colorful that it makes an album that's over 50 minutes long feel like 20. This is the very opposite of a chore to listen to.
And that takes us to the lyrics and themes, of which is an absolute chore to get here. This album is fourth-wall breaking, this album refers to the band themselves, and above all, this album is insufferable. But when you start digging into the details, you start to notice some really cohesive patterns. Simply put, this is an album about the creative process.
And Tyler doesn't waste any time. A lot of the album doesn't deal with the process itself more so than the mindset of it, such as Tyler solidifying the intent and motives behind his music on songs like Heavydirtysoul and Lane Boy. However, there's one misconception that a lot of people have about this album: twenty-øne piløts' stands on pop music as a genre.
This is where the fourth-wall breaking gets very important, because there are plenty of songs like Stressed Out, Fairly Local, Lane Boy, We Don't Believe What's On TV, and Tear In My Heart (if you completely and utterly miss the point of it) seem to take shots at mediocre, sugary pop music all the while having bright, accessible production throughout. What is missing here is the centerpiece between the hypocrisy: Tyler Joseph himself. Tyler knows that his music is pretty obviously top 40 ready with few exceptions, but he also knows that he can't change that, being restricted by an industry that does not give him enough freedom to truly express himself, but he still needs to make those sacrifices for his own sake (also, their music's budget).
And yeah, Tyler pokes fun at the music industry a lot, but he's self-aware enough to know that his true problems are not some sort of higher corporation...but himself. Throughout the album, he knows that for now he can hide behind his origins and hold off his problems, but he needs to end up facing those demons. But he also knows that he can't do this alone, his beliefs are still very much present and he needs those beliefs to help him through.
And this album also does something I didn't expect: descend below its audience. Almost prematurely continuing the last lines on the latest Sims album that I covered just last review, Tyler's already converted his insecurities and thoughts into the echo of sound waves, now the final step is to give it back to you. He wants to be known by you, we're the only people that can truly judge him and set him free. Tyler can't and doesn't defeat Blurryface, the embodiment of his insecurities, on this album, more so find a way to accept him through the music and ourselves. Looks like all that self-consciousness paid off.
Yeah, I absolutely love this. A concise, earnest, witty, almost cinematic album that shows a band improving in all fronts. The fact that this is hated as much as it is is exasperating. When it's possible for two guys to make pop music that's so cohesive, focused, and well-written while still being so vibrant, infectious, and fun, this is an absolute masterpiece. Easily a 10/10, and you don't even need me to say this has my highest of recommendations. It's not for everyone, as accessible as it is, again, it's insufferable. But it cares too much about what we think, and for it to be as amazing as it is is a flawless statement on how well that paid off.
This is WonkeyDude98, and I swear that Bruno Mars review is next.
Ok. Good review, liked this better - ProPanda
Well, I wanted this on the SwellowDude98 account, but I'm grateful that the admins got this here anyway, thanks! - WonkeyDude98
As usual, good review. - visitor
I'm still not very clear on your rating system. You said this album isn't perfect but you gave it 10/10 anyway? - ryansliao