Review: twenty | one | pilots – Regional at Best (2011)

Friends Josh Dun and Tyler Joseph of Columbus, Ohio have been performing together for barely over a year, on a project that emerged in Joseph’s brain after he figured out that music “did something to” him.  A self-titled debut record (pre-Josh Dun era) generated a decent amount of buzz in central Ohio, and in Spring of 2011 the duo performed a CD release show on the grounds of New Albany High School for Regional at Best.  Hundreds showed up to the free show.  Fast forward to November 2011 when the duo sold out Columbus’ legendary Newport Music Hall.  This is an unheard of feat for an unsigned band; a feat that landed the attention of a dozen record labels on them.  At a sold-out hometown show in the much larger LC Pavilion in Columbus, the band announced their signing to Fueled By Ramen, home to Fun., Paramore, Cobra Starship, and the like.  So, what is it about their music that caused so much buzz out of nowhere? Allow me to walk you through their acclaimed Regional at Best independent LP.

It should be noted that a few, yet to be announced old songs are being remastered for their first major label release.  As such, it is fair to assume Regional at Best is essentially a group of 14 glorified demos.  One would never know it though, from the professionalism we hear.

I could spend days expounding on the styles of all fourteen songs on the record.  So, to keep things succinct I will focus on my favorites (though this whole album is good – I repeat, the whole album is good.).  “Guns For Hands” opens the record with a thumping bass drum amid a borderline bubble-gum pop piano melody.  The duo takes the song in a rocking direction, and a similar effect happens in the synth-laden “Holding Onto You.”  The genre bending really kicks in the foreboding yet impossibly catchy “Ode To Sleep.”   I challenge you not to move a least a little bit to synth-heavy breakdown.  The time signature suddenly changes after our first glimpse of Tyler Joseph’s rapping ability.  A “side B” singing verse, if you will, follows.  The chorus is the kind that transforms a song into a guilty pleasure, and it changes the time signature yet again.  Yet, somehow it works.  It works really well.  Just look at the live video for the song.

Probably the most club-ready song on the album is “Lovely.”   Here we find Joseph embracing his falsetto voice in a chorus that has one of the largest hooks on the album (or anywhere in recent memory).   “Ruby” doesn’t really go the way of the traditional verse/chorus song structure at all but it still retains its catchiness.  Usually songs like this are an acquired taste for me and the first time I listen to this I knew it would become one of my favorites on the record.

I will close out this review by giving due Joseph’s lyric writing ability.  We see this most obviously in the spoken word heavy “Car Radio” as he explores themes of inner turmoil and unsettling thoughts. “I liked it better when my car had sound!” he declares, alluding to the allure of shallow distractions from inner demons.   Success is found in simplicity as well.  One example of this is “Trees.”  Consider the simple, yet heavy chorus: “I can feel your breath / I can feel my death / I want to know you / I want to see / I want to say, hello.”

twenty | one | pilots will be embarking on a short tour this August with Neon Trees and Walk the Moon.  Expect big things from these guys.  Want to know why I say that?  The band disclosed that Regional at Best (the review of which you just read) is essentially a collection of glorified demos.  So, we have yet to hear their full potential.  This, my friends, is exciting.

twenty | one | pilots
Official | iTunes

Rating: 8.6/10

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