Scaled and Icy – Twenty One Pilots

Twenty One Pilots has been busy since my last review! I’ve still got to figure out whether to review Trench, which continued and improved on the techniques of blurryface and Vessel, but I know I want to talk about this one. Scaled and Icy represents a completely fresh start for Twenty One Pilots after Tyler Joseph taught himself guitar during the pandemic and re-learned how to write music on a new instrument. The first four main TOP albums drove darker and darker, but Scaled and Icy is laser-focused on joy. The obvious standout is “Formidable”, with its incredible groove and the most joyful take there’s ever been on the i-VIb-IIIb-VIIb progression. (The secret is focusing on the top part of the tonic minor seventh chord.) Artists, steal this groove! Scaled and Icy is the band’s first rock album; though they’ve been termed alt-rock before, it was always a mix of rap and off-the-wall music hall compositions. Make no mistake, they’re still out there, and the detuned riff to “The Outside” is a major highlight to this album; it’s just that Tyler Joseph’s now latched onto rock’s compositional hallmarks, like mode mixture on the I, and VIb chords, executed brilliantly on “Never Take It” over its electric riffing and the Pilots’ first guitar solo. The instrumental grooves have become specifically accentuated to fit with the melody, like in the beautiful funk guitar riffs of “Saturday”, another standout for its joyful background vocals, for the descending chords that close out the chorus, for those cheesy, fun full stops, and, above all, for the sheer amount of things going on to highlight which beats you should be focusing on. “Shy Away”, like “Saturday”, hits the seventh sixteenth-note of every 4/4 measure hard, and it works to anchor the harmony of that track in an interesting way. “Bounce Man” opens on a corny groove before transitioning into superbly coy ukulele riffs over a bumping bassline. The ethos of this album is to find joy when everything outside is such a drag- of course it’s rock and roll. I could point out inspirations from the Talking Heads, the Beatles, and Chicago- just look at Chicago’s song “Saturday In The Park”, TOP’s “Mulberry Street”, and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”. I know the opening to “Good Day” is a classic sample, I just don’t know what it comes from. By the way, Tyler Joseph’s vocals are excellent on this album; “I know it’s hard to believe me” is the first epic vocal moment it delivers, and it just keeps on giving. My only complaint is that “Shy Away” and “Choker” shouldn’t have been the first singles, since they don’t represent the central innovations of this album; if those have turned you off to this work, you need to do a 180 now- this album is a wonder.

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