The time has come. The day that Columbus, Ohio phenoms Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun release their major label debut Vessel is here. What a ride it has been up to this point! Barely out of high school, Joseph began twenty | one | pilots in 2009. His project lost two members and gained Josh Dun, and that’s about when things really started to accelerate. I’ve told the story on Mezzic and elsewhere before, but just in case you’re unfamiliar, they did the impossible – sold out a 1400+ capacity concert hall in Columbus, OH as an unsigned, local band in a headlining slot. So began a label-bidding war, and now here we are at their Fueled By Ramen Records debut.
TOP plays a brand of music that some have deemed “schizoid pop,” a sound somewhat polarizing but mostly pleasing to the masses (see above paragraph). Vessel is a project of half new tunes, and half reworked favorites from the popular-in-central-Ohio-at-least Regional at Best. The frenetic “Ode to Sleep” definitely puts the “schizoid” in schizoid pop, opening the album in what possibly might be the most memorable way possible – a proper intro to the band. First single “Holding On To You” follows, speaking of battling inner demons (albeit in a delightful way). What you really care about are the new songs though (especially if you have an affinity for the Ohio State Buckeyes) in all likelihood. Does the new stuff stack up to the old? Can we get through this winter that is just beginning to drag on with the help of these new tunes? Yes and Yes.
“Migraine” is the first of the new tunes, which has Joseph lending his falsetto into a quite ironically cheery chorus. “Am I the only one I know, waging my wars behind my face and above my throat?” he ponders. Ukelele driven “House of Gold” is a short but sweet ode to Joseph’s mother (d’awww!) and the now classic “Car Radio” is spoken-word meets electronica at it’s best. More newbies emerge with “Screen” and “Semi-Automatic,” the former of which is also ukelele driven, having been introduced at the live shows for quite a while now. While these two are definitely gems, my favorite of the new tracks has to be the “The Run and Go,” a dance-y tune as quirky as is it muscular. “Fake You Out” widens the dichotomy between quirky and brutal even more, somehow managing to be both, while “Guns For Hands” sticks with simply being a more polished version of the original track. “Trees” wins the award for best-reworking of a song – you have to give producer Greg Wells for helping the guys nail this one (not that its a huge surprise -he’s partnered with the likes of Katy Perry and Adele in the past), adding in a smattering of new elements – making the whole thing just seem fuller. “Truce” ends the project with a bittersweet theme of “It’s sad the show’s over, but that’s ok! We’ll be back soon” (my paraphrasing of the feel of the song, not actual lyrics). TOP will definitely be back many times. Again, and again, and again!
I can’t stress enough how pleased I am with how this record turned out. To throw in an old adage, if this record doesn’t propel this duo to the stratosphere, I’ll eat my hat. And by the way – those are the grandfathers of the duo in the album art. The cherry on top.