Twenty one pilots is not the first band to brazenly mash together disparate genres. Still, it’s rare to see an artist on the pop charts so unabashedly break the rules, sometimes forgoing hooks and choruses altogether. Before signing to Fueled By Ramen—home to bands like Fall Out Boy, Paramore, and Jimmy Eat World—singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Tyler Joseph and drummer Josh Dun had been honing their sound in front of bigger and bigger crowds in and around their hometown of Columbus, OH. As much as the music itself, Joseph’s words hit especially hard, no matter if he’s spilling them out in a wicked-fast rap or theatrical croon. The whole package comes together on twenty one pilots’ 2013 major label debut, a polished, potent patchwork of rock and rap, emo and electro-pop—and plenty of hell and hope. For half of Vessel, the duo reworked songs from its 2011 independent release, Regional at Best, turning them into fuller, glossier productions while still harnessing the pair’s cathartic energy. Opener “Ode To Sleep” hopscotches through buzzing synths, menacing bass, and Joseph’s breathless raps, then swiftly plunges into a jaunty emo-pop rager. The shapeshifting song puts listeners straight through a boot camp, though it’s just the warm-up. Every ensuing track is fueled by just as much urgency, whether it’s tightly wrapped in piano-dotted pop (“Holding On To You”), ukulele-lined folk (“House of Gold”), or indie dance beats (“Semi-Automatic”). Joseph’s clever wordplay guides listeners through every musical switchback as he brutally dissects the blackest recesses of the psyche. “Sometimes to stay alive you gotta kill your mind,” he confesses on the punchy “Migraine,” before he confronts the maddening sound of silence on the slow-groovin’ “Car Radio,” then offers a heartening call to arms for anyone who has contemplated suicide on the reggae-tinged synth anthem “Guns For Hands.” This is ultimately his greatest message—that people aren’t alone. “Stay alive, stay alive for me,” he softly sings on the tender piano closer, “Truce,” a simple reminder to both himself and the listener. twenty one pilots’ fans have since returned the love, propelling all 12 songs on Vessel to at least Gold status.

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