Start with the best, forget all the rest, right? Just joshing: each Twenty One Pilots has individual merit, but 2013's Vessel is by far the best. It's a complicated project, but is never overly chaotic, and plays to the dynamic duo's core strengths. The Daft Punk-esque intro of "Migraine," which leads into a Eminem-esque rap about self-deprecation, is especially memorable--and highlights the sort of layered songwriting Tyler Joseph excels at.
"Fake You Out" feels like a Killers tune with a purposeful-youth tinge; there's that pulsing beat on the bridge, and the immediacy they flirt with on other releases but comes full circle on Vessel. Meanwhile, "Guns For Hands" might be their best single to date. It's catchy and highlights their political motive, but most importantly, it's an electronic song that operates like a rock one and recalls the days of pre-huge Fall Out Boy: Music the "scene" can rally behind, and sounds the mainstream can adopt.
Here's the record that broke them. Earlier this year, Blurryface went No. 1 on the BIllboard 200, making the world stand up and take notice. The album feels like a continuation of Vessel but slightly more self-conscious--in a recent Reddit AMA, Tyler Joseph explained that insecurity:
"I will say that our last record, Vessel, was written not knowing whether or not people were going to hear it. And this next record, Blurryface, was written knowing there was an audience. And to say that we weren't influenced by that fact would be a lie. But if anything, it's kept us even more accountable in the direction that we've gone, and the things that we say."
But still, the record is one of their best. "Stressed Out" continues to climb radio charts and "Tear In My Heart" is one of the best rock tunes of the year. These dudes clearly know how to write a fun song, even if the message is inherently bleak.
The origin story! Twenty One Pilots' first album (pre-drummer Josh Dun) feels like a mesh of Panic! at the Disco and Owl City production filtered through the most melodramatic intros from the most melodramatic songs by indie-pop darlings Parenthetical Girls.
What makes the record intriguing is perhaps the most distinctive feature of TOP music: The rapping. It's evident, even from the earliest tunes, that Tyler Joseph is invested in social issues, and rapping them over beautiful piano arrangements. It's a quick delivery, and at times, he struggles to enunciate. His speak-singing is typically more effective. "Friend, Please" has a vocal performance not unlike the somber songs on My Chemical Romance's The Black Parade.
Regional at Best was much more experimental than their debut, but that's not necessarily a good thing. It's a little all over the place, and solid if not remarkable.
For instance, "Kitchen Sink" sounds like the creation of someone who spent a large chunk of time with Björk records, but also a lot of Thirty Seconds to Mars album (those hollers near the end are definitely straight out of Jared Leto's mouth.) Meanwhile, "Lovely" showcases a different side of the band, beckoning to a pan flute and bizarre structure. Of all their records, this sounds perhaps the most expansive, with a fascinating film-score quality.
Regional at Best is not a bad record by any means, perhaps just a bit too ambitious. Like their debut album, there are moments of a heavily religious nature, which also might have alienated some listeners. They lost that in their later work, and now, Twenty One Pilots is more universal.