It’s been over two years since Twenty One Pilots released their fourth album, Blurryface. In that short time, they have risen from a band who plays during the middle of the day at a festival to headlining their own worldwide arena tour. I had the chance to see them twice this year. It’s not an opportunity you want to miss the next time they come around.
This band has been a formative force of my listening almost every day for the past two years. Their work has helped shape the way I look at various genres and music in general. This week, fans across the world woke up to celebrate Tyler Joseph’s (lead singer) birthday. In honor of him turning the big 29, I decided to sit down, think, and share my top ten songs (in no specific order) and what they mean to me. It wasn’t an easy task to narrow their discography to just a handful of songs, but let’s get started.
Lane Boy is a strong track from Blurryface that serves as a rebellion against “the man”, the Big Brother of the music industry that tries to control artists. It’s about forging your own path. Don’t stay where someone else wants you to be. When it comes to your creative outlet or your job, only you know what’s best, not the labels or the bosses.
Ode to Sleep, specifically their live version of it from South by Southwest a few years ago is next. It’s a strange song that features percussive transitions from singing to rapping through drummer Josh Dun’s heavy handed beats. I also love the quality that Tyler’s voice takes here with a raw, unhinged sound.
Trees is a staple of the band’s setlist that hails from Vessel. It’s the band’s first studio album with the New York-based label Fueled by Ramen, but their third album overall. It closes almost every show these days, and paints a picture of someone who doesn’t really know how to speak to God, despite knowing right where He stands. It’s a powerful song that incorporates intimate moments with energetic drum beats that make for a perfect closer.
Continuing with the religious undertones of their music is a song that doesn’t hide its connection to God, A Car, A Torch, A Death. For me, this one is about watching someone you love pass away. It explains that the narrator knows “why God died.” It’s written from the perspective of someone who has definitely struggled with their faith when it comes to knowing why God allows us to suffer through things like death.
The only song on this list from their second album Regional at Best is Kitchen Sink. It’s a unique and instantly recognizable song from anyone who’s a fan and features a robust second verse courtesy of Tyler’s brother, Zack Joseph. This one is about finding your own purpose by doing what you love and defeating those inner demons that all of us wrestle with on a daily basis. Its simple, yet powerful chorus of just “leave me alone” in flawless falsetto guides the song to a full belt of “don’t leave me alone” at the close of the song.
One of the most fun songs in their discography is Message Man. It’s a great experience at their live show with hints of reggae, which signals their almost genre-neutral status. The song features the line “my people singing” that guides the narrator of this song, who feels like a loser despite being a success. It’s a letter to fanbase that show that we as a group push him to keep his head up and move forward.
Despite saying that these are in no order, I will disclose that Holding On To You is not only my favorite Twenty One Pilots song, but one of my favorite songs of all time. There’s a great video to match the energy of this song that contains a strong buildup throughout the bridge that holds my favorite lyric in their discography: entertain my faith. It’s a subtle message to present yourself to God for what you are and allow Him to shape you into who you’re supposed to be.
Goner is often a song I go to not only when I’m sad, but also when I just need to scream out some frustration. It’s quiet in the beginning with lyrics like “don’t let me be gone”, before building to the most powerful section on the Blurryface record. The screaming in this one is amazing.
Taxi Cab hails from the band’s self-titled first album, when drummer Josh Dun wasn’t even involved yet, and the group led by Tyler Joseph, played backyards in Columbus, Ohio. It has a memorable piano medley with the powerful lyrics “You’re driving toward the morning sun, where all your blood is washed away and all you did will be undone.” I saw an interpretation of the title while I was researching for this blog that I agreed with. A cab is not a hearse, not an ambulance. You get in a cab of your own free will with the only person who can take you to your destination being yourself, so you have to choose Heaven, just like the narrator.
The final song is Car Radio, another essential piece of their live show that sees Tyler race from the front stage to the small back platform that towers over the crowd. It’s a gut punch that’s about dealing with your thoughts. Sometimes silence is the worst sound you can hear because it leaves you alone and forces you to look at those bad thoughts right in the face. It’s a compelling number that drives us to believe that “sometimes quiet is violent.”
These songs have pushed me to look at music in a totally different way than I have before. Twenty One Pilots is easily one of the best live bands I have ever had the pleasure of seeing. They helped shape my taste in music and are a highlight of this entire year for me. I can’t wait to see what they have in store next. Happy birthday and thank you for the music, Tyler.
(I own no photos used, but I did make the graphics)