ALBUM REVIEW: Twenty One Pilots – Scaled And Icy
There is never a dull moment in the Twenty One Pilots universe, and today is yet another huge day for the band and fans alike. The release of their latest album, ‘Scaled and Icy’, sees the emergence of new sounds, an intriguing composition, but most importantly, an album that perfectly grasps at the very core of the ‘Scaled and Icy’ theories. With a gradual progression from false positivity to unsheltered vulnerability and defeat, there is more than meets the eye in the band’s latest record. However, it’s not always about the theories! Through an album of sounds and styles, unexpected by many, Twenty One Pilots have shifted the tone and presented something with a new essence- keeping their discography fresh and exciting. Here is our deep-dive into ‘Scaled and Icy’!
‘Good Day’ opens the album with an intriguing start. Blissful and chipper, this track feels as though it is a true embodiment of its title- it’s somewhat light and bubbly nature encapsulating this irregular feeling for a band often plagued by forces beyond our own reach. However, the compositionally clever band may have just leaked these forces into the song as a menacing vocal backup rears its head every few lines. Although this may just be a layered vocal choice, nothing is ever simple with this band, and leads to question whether an essence of a darker figure is lurking, (think of a Blurryface type figure). Truly, I think this track frames and introduces the album well, particularly through its unsettling invitation into a world of happiness that has the potential to destroy us all. The gradual build-up is enough to take the song elsewhere, beyond a stagnant point. True to form, the band builds a world, with ‘Good Day’ feeling like a warm ray of sun hitting you when surrounded by a concrete maze, or feeling as if you’re trapped in a sitcom! It’s more than fitting to say that the title and song walk hand in hand, strolling all the way to ‘Choker’!
Choker: Beginning with a manipulated intro, reminiscent of Heavydirtysoul, I saw myself beginning to ask questions if it would integrate into the past works we’ve seen from the band before. Compositionally, ‘Choker’ deviates from this statement completely, instead presenting a song that I think is best described as solemnly stagnant, a term not commonly associated with the band- but certainly not with negative connotations! With no large dips, dives, rises or reaches, the song places such an integral role upon both the lyrics, and vulnerable, timeless vocals of frontman Tyler Joseph. In previous projects, we have seen how foundational these lyric reliant songs have become to many- think of songs like ‘The Hype’! Lyrically, the statement above could not ring any truer! Just when you think you’ve heard all there is to discover, the final moments hit you with a wave of nostalgia. Joseph’s unassured and truthful, fluent raps raise projects like ‘Vessel’ from the woodworks, acting as a homage to the past that has created them. As a long time fan, this section was not merely reminiscent, but mimicked some of the intriguing and individual features that drew me to the band so many years ago! So too, the lyrics of this section, particularly notions of the sun and shadows; “As a shadow cast upon the ground where you’ll eventually // Lay forever, but the day goes on, the sun moves behind you” conjured up feelings first presented in songs like ‘Truce’ and ‘Semi-Automatic’. Despite the song exploring themes of inadequacy, an incapability to be more, and the ramifications of passiveness and the position it has left the protagonist of this song in, I believe the true emphasis on such a lyrically amplified song is the many homages and direct links to the rest of the Twenty One Pilots universe. The lyrics discussed before, as well as “choking on second hand smoke”, the manipulated instrumental introduction (Heavydirtysoul), and “I know it’s over” (Leave The City) is more than an evident argument. The exploration of the past and the inability to escape the actions of before may just be the band’s way of representing their past creations, or perhaps our next step moving forward is looking to the past for answers!
Shy Away: Revisiting one of the singles from ‘Scaled and Icy’, ‘Shy Away’ introduced us to the potential parameters of this album. With an unshakable 80’s electro-pop feeling, there is an entrancing groove that becomes embedded into the twisted and often beyond surface level lyrics of this band. I think for many, it becomes an instant earworm! Fun, vibrant and upbeat, this song holds a nostalgia and familiarity that is comforting, but still holds a capacity to sound fresh! It’s inarguably an easy listen, which is part of the reason it is just so loveable. In snippets of fronting and backing vocals, we hear grainy screams from Tyler, creating a multi-layered song, comprised of expressions and tones that bounce from each other. Much like the first track, these varying voices raise questions surrounding the authenticity of positivity in the ‘Scaled and Icy’ world.
The Outside: When reaching this point of the album, it illustrates just how fond the band have become of electronic traits and styles to accentuate their tone and voice, and when looking at songs, such as this one, it is evident that it creates something truly unique. The strong bass line within ‘The Outside’ is addicting. It wraps around you and drags you into the track- an inescapable loop of a song that I think I can confidently call ‘cool’. For me, it’s reminiscent of a track like ‘Kids With Guns’ by Gorillaz, where the interest and intrigue is built from the simplicity and vague sense of carelessness from the artist. The rap verse, as well as the heavier backing instrumentals, create an unexpected but certainly welcomed surprise. This song was a clear standout and is most definitely a personal favourite.
Saturday: Acting as the final single before the all important release was ‘Saturday’. Compared to its counterpart, ‘The Outside’, it takes an extreme turn- which I have come to realise is not rare for this album. It is a song that clearly emphasizes the fluctuations within the album; feelings of hope and sounds of positivity mixed between a stark darkness and a gut feeling that something more lies beneath the surface- a feeling that is truly fostered within the theories of ‘Scaled and Icy’, possibly controlled by DEMA. Regardless, this song is fun and acts as a breather from some of the themes. Jenna’s phone call is a personal touch that really articulates the sense of trust this band holds with its fans, which is a common trope within albums. Culminating to a high note and cut-offs that throw you off yet drag you in, ‘Saturday’ is a track that embraces all its quirks.
Never take it: When first listening to the track, I was plagued by this unshakeable ‘Breakfast Club’ feeling, I guess matching to the same 80’s vibes I’ve been sniffing out within a few songs. Strong backing instrumentals lead this track, with the quirky vocals of Tyler guiding you through the maze that is this song. It is a strong track that becomes anthemic through its composition and lyricism. Fitting perfectly into the TOP world is the line, “you better educate yourself, but never too much”- linking to worlds like DEMA that can destroy you if blissfully unaware, but make you a target if you know too much. Rounding off with strong guitars, this song is a standout for the album!
Mulberry Street: This track is instantaneously imagery invoking, like you can almost picture yourself strutting down a concrete street, surrounded by small and vibrant gardens. Tyler has really been throwing his high vocals around within ‘Scaled and Icy’, and it’s a promising thing to see, aiding the vocal duality and capabilities of the band. The sharp tonal changes that shift between the vocals and spoken word make it an intimate track about keeping yourself grounded; almost like a personal lesson. The slowed piano led part of this track is reminiscent of the self-titled era, a feeling of isolation and pure vulnerability. However, the song is quickly guided back into a groove, so much so that it feels they do not wish to expose their past or project their single thoughts too much, (something which becomes an interesting concept when looking at the theories).
Formidable: ‘Formidable’ solidifies the greater indie-pop vibes of the album that, although to many is unexpected, seems to suit the band and their capabilities so much. The instrumentals within this album, and this track particularly, hold quite a power in entrancing, emotionally attracting, and grasping at your attention. Lyrically, of course, the band has yet again proven their strengths. This song is passionate, raw and moving; truly a ‘formidable’ addition to the album!
Bounce Man: Opening with a fun intro, and remaining poppy and vibrant for its entirety, ‘Bounce Man’ is a light tune. Compositionally creative, including little adlibs, voice variations and changes in various spots, I think it’s a comforting song that keeps you on your toes, however, without the fear of any drastic changes. I think this song can purely be described as fun and comforting, diverting from some of the lighter sounding tracks that have been submerged in an underlying concern.
No Chances: ‘No Chances’ is darker and deeper than anything to be heard on this album. With a mesmerizing alarm sounds, almost creepy, it rings true of something beyond impending doom, (the sirens of a failed perimeter escape perhaps). The choir of voices drown you into the song, creating an overwhelming intensity. Littered with rapped verses, this song reminds me of others, such as ‘Levitate’; a song that spills all to create a mass distraction from the enemy forces. A simplistic chorus lends its hand to emphasizing the verses and the intenseness of the world being built around it; a beautiful contrast. From the beginning, ‘No Chances’ was an unsettling song that grabbed my attention, and as I am typing this, still has not let go. It would also be a crime not to mention the jarring ‘we-we-we’ that attacks the listener right at the end of the track! Truly, this is a personal favourite from the album, and I’m sure it’s going to hold a place in many people’s hearts!
Redecorate: With a direct transition from ‘No Chances’, it’s clear to see the two tracks are inseparable, and together, convey a message essential to the story of ‘Scaled and Icy’. Truthfully, ‘Redecorate’ introduces itself as a plea that directly follows the threats and admission that surfaced within the previous track. This complex and intertwined story becomes a reminder of some earlier albums where we view a constant struggle. With a twist, ‘Redecorate’ ends the album in a strong and vulnerable way: finalising a gradual progression from false positivity to the disguise being unmasked. As the conclusory track, ‘Redecorate’ raises more questions than it does answer – but will in time become unwoven through this complex and intriguing storyline. Most importantly, it ends the album with a song that sounds truly like the band. Whilst some people may be shocked by the variation in this album, ‘Redecorate’ brings it all back, and highlights the potential reasons for such a shift.
Overall, ‘Scaled and Icy’ sees many new approaches being adopted by the band. Growth and experimentation are wonderful things, and allow us to delve into the prospects of new sounds, styles, and their compatibility with the band. What’s even better is when this experimentation is partnered with nostalgia; something this record fosters. With touches of new and old, as well as times for a dramatic storyline or just a vibrant track, ‘Scaled and Icy’ presents a masterful duality in all fields. Intriguing in its first listen and captivating the next, this album is sure to grow on many! With events and livestreams, theories and stories emerging from everywhere, we recommend listening to ‘Scaled and Icy’ as soon as you can!