It’s been a year since Twenty One Pilots embarked on a one-year hiatus. A year of utter silence ushered in by the closing of a cryptic eye on the band’s Facebook page — an eye closed as if in a state of permanent sleep.
But it’s time to wake up.
And the ukulele-punk-darlings of Columbus, Ohio are here with two new singles — both from the band’s forthcoming album, “Trench,” available October 5 — that are sure to shake you awake.
Welcoming listeners to the new era with a sonically blistering wave that feels more at home in a The White Stripes song, but doesn’t feel out of place here either, “Jumpsuit” charges in like a calvary. And simply takes no prisoners.
Crackling like a live wire, “Jumpsuit” fluctuates between pulsating bass and drums and assured, yet subdued, vocals. Frontman, Tyler Joseph, isn’t rapping as fast as he can over the verses, or pushing his voice above a more-than-conversational volume through most of the song. It’s almost like poetry set to the motion of a backing track — the way the music surges in to fill the silence found in the void of lyrics, but relents to make room for Joseph’s voice.
It’s a push and pull, like waves breaking on the shore and receding back to the sea. It gives and it takes in equal measure, that is, until it doesn’t.
After a breakdown of fragile piano and soft vocals, accompanied by gentle snare work, “Jumpsuit” bares its teeth and races towards the finale, a tidal wave of sound capped off by Joseph’s harsh vocals.
It’s a marriage of polar opposites, and another example in the extensive case study of Twenty One Pilots working within contrasts.
East Is Up
The second single, “Nico and the Niners” uses this effect to its benefit as well, pairing an up-tempo, reggae-infused track with darker lyrics. A staple in the band’s style, this juxtaposition of sound and content is an act that has worked well for them in the past, and “Nico and the Niners” maintains this balancing act.
Perched on a razor’s edge, the contrast between lyrics and music is further enhanced by the distorted and pitched vocals layered within the song.
A distortion that has long been a part of the band’s repertoire — briefly featured on “Screen,” and resurfacing later on “Stressed Out,” “Fairly Local” and a smattering of other songs from the Blurryface era — it is used to great effect on “Nico and the Niners.”
Because this layering of voices gives the track a sense of varying characters, as though it’s part of a story, which, I can only assume, is exactly what Joseph and Josh Dun wanted. Because there is a story here.
But just who is Nico? Who are the Niners? Well, these are answers we don’t have quite yet — though I’m sure there are already a collection of fan theories out there — but this lack of answers does nothing to diminish the quality of the song.
A natural progression of the reggae-infused vibes found on “Guns for Hands,” from the band’s debut album under Fueled by Ramen, and later refined on “Ride,” “Nico and the Niners” is a bop, casually strolling along a line of assured vocals and subdued drums.
And while it plays like a summer dream, don’t be fooled: “Nico and the Niners” continues “Jumpsuits” frenetic energy while invoking new-found, yet familiar, imagery.
“I’m heavy, my jumpsuit is unsteady / I’m lighter when I’m lower, I’m higher when I’m heavy, oh / I’m so high, my jumpsuit takes me so high / I’m flying from a fire, from Nico and the Niners, oh,” Joseph half-sings, half-raps along the chorus.
Dema Don’t Control Us
If “Nico and the Niners” is the band refining their ability to slow things down without losing any momentum, then “Jumpsuit,” with its distorted vocals, relentless drums — courtesy of Dun — and frantic synths, is the “Heavydirtysoul” of this new, yellow-tinted era.
But this is a departure from the Blurryface era, a new chapter for Twenty One Pilots. And this is most apparent when, in the cinematic music video for “Jumpsuit,” Joseph pulls a jacket, embellished in yellow, from the smoldering remains of the car from those “Heavydirtysoul” days.
And it’d be easy to draw comparisons between “Blurryface” giving way to this new era and a phoenix rising from the ashes, born anew. But you deserve better than that.
Because, if Twenty One Pilots’ two, new singles tell us anything, it’s that this is a continuation of form, not an abandonment of it. It’s like Joseph says in the beginning of the band’s latest music video: “We’ve been here the whole time. You were asleep — time to wake up.”
Ashley Cline is an avid introvert and full-time carbon based life form currently living in south Jersey. Since graduating from Rowan University with her Bachelor's in Journalism, she can usually be found singing show tunes to her dog, drinking too much iced coffee and wearing beanies. Her personal best at all-you-can-eat sushi is five rolls in eleven minutes. You can find her yelling about Carly Rae Jepsen on Twitter and posting photos of her dog on Instagram.