You probably haven’t heard much about Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun or their band, twenty | one | pilots, just yet. The hype around this duo is expected to build into a tsunami after their major label release of Vessel, the third album. The Columbus duo’s past releases mixed rap vocals with some elements of synth-pop and, at times, new wave melodies. Enhanced by very powerful live performances, twenty | one | pilots started building a strong fan base who contributed to their sold out shows and prominence in the Columbus music scene years before industry executives started to pay attention to them.
Now after touring with the likes of Neon Indian and a few live dates in Japan and Korea, all eyes are on Joseph and Dun’s latest, Vessel. The record functions as some kind of re-debut,a make-over of their past sound that aims for radio plays and chart-topping singles. Especially with Greg Wells, responsible for producing albums by superstars such as Adele and Katy Perry, in the producer’s seat.
The thing with Vessel is that, although you might think there is a gap in the market for a white rapper, singing anthems of youth and rebellion and a post-punk drummer adding live drums to a more electronic sound, the lack of substance in the songs make it nothing more than an boring and sometimes annoying album. Borrowing so many elements of the early aughts doesn’t make them sound retro, it sounds as if they recorded the album ten years ago and canned it for a release this year. The word “rap” is coming up plenty of times when describing their sound but only as a result of their attempts backfiring; they sound more like Ke$ha than they will ever sound like A$AP Rocky.
“Ode to Sleep” opens the album with an Eminem style rap that quickly turns into a hook that would fit into any The All American Rejects album followed by a chorus in the tradition of “We Are Young” by Fun. with much less strength. “Holding On To You” rises as one of the crucial songs of the album, obviously conceived as a single, is one of the strongest moments of Vessel. The rest of the album is more of the same, some rap verses and some catchy choruses carried by funky piano melodies and songs like “Screen” begging to become an emo-revival anthem, repeating “We’re broken people” over and over.
What is very ironic about this album, is how some of the finest moments come from the songs that wouldn’t fit the description of the band. For instance “House Of Gold” is a very catchy and enjoyable song that displays Joseph Tyler’s singing voice, which, to my surprise, heavily outweighs his rapping skills. “Truce” is a nice piece to conclude this very regular and over-produced album.
In general, Vessel is an average effort from the band, suitable for the radio and with potential for anthems in live shows, but its attributes rely more on the ambition and willingness of the duo, rather than in the talent put in the songs. That said, the buzz around them is very comprehensible, in days when everything is full of R&B influences and 80′s allusions, twenty | one | pilots may feel like a mouthful of fresh water. But, like water, the music of the duo is flavorless.