The Columbus, Ohio-based alternative rock/ indie pop duo Twenty One Pilots present jubilant hooks aplenty on their slickly catchy, new, full-length album Scaled And Icy, which is available now via Fueled By Ramen.
The album self-assuredly bounds along, running on captivatingly intricate and decidedly breathable percussion from the duo’s Josh Dun alongside an array of other generally bright-toned instrumentation, like shimmering guitars with a light touch and starry synths. An audio sample of chirping birds and a bit of splashy brass even appear at one point.
Overall, the free-flowing energy makes Scaled And Icy sometimes feel danceable, a sense that comes especially into focus on the record’s swaggering and subtly aggressive lead single “Shy Away.”
The album seems grounded in a thin layer of emotive unease—the particularly contemplative “Choker,” for instance, features moments of quiet interspersed with especially jittery rhythms that suggest simmering anxiety—so the scene seems like swaying across a half-full and dimly lit dance hall rather than a set-up featuring neon spotlights and bombast, but the push is undeniable. Dun and singer/ multi-instrumentalist Tyler Joseph sound joyful, or at least like they’re after joy.
The dynamics across Scaled And Icy are rich, from the moody shifts of “The Outside” to the cascading and even somewhat anthemic vibes across “Never Take It,” which seems a bit more straightforwardly oriented. Other highlights include the ominously booming synth hits that open “No Chances” and the groovily swaying rhythms of “Saturday.”
Together, these elements build into something starkly uplifting, taking the journey with breezy curiosity rather than in a rush. The songs prove soulful yet intriguingly easygoing, like an invitation to dance along with the band in one of the intricately developed conceptual worlds where Twenty One Pilots often embed their music.
On album opener “Good Day,” Joseph triumphantly sings, “I know it’s hard to believe me; it’s a good day,” and—in addition to the more overarching lyrical concepts—this sentiment lands like a direct message to listeners who may have been with Twenty One Pilots for awhile.
Joseph and Dun have dealt with serious subject matter across the band’s run, and although sometimes this intensity has been presented through the filter of a heady album concept like that of the “Blurryface” character on their 2016 album of the same name, the impact seems clear. Blurryface, for instance, concludes with the mostly piano-driven ballad “Goner” on which Joseph—who sounds emotionally pained—repeats the refrain, “Don’t let me be gone.” Ahead of the track’s end, it bursts into a sudden crescendo of jarringly propulsive instrumentation as Joseph begins to belt out his lyrics.
Both sonically and thematically, Scaled And Icy proves distinct. Twenty One Pilots have hidden downtrodden lyrics beneath catchy melodies before, but for the most part, that catchiness spreads across the whole album here. It’s consistently upbeat, and the emotive dynamic swings across the album evoke a sense of observing an outpouring of real-world passion.
The album closes with “Redecorate,” which, as one of the most overcast songs on the album, runs in part on a warm yet contemplatively paced beat, suggesting a quiet realization that the lights have shut off and it’s time to go home.
The song, while featuring a noticeable level of restraint that allows Joseph’s vocals to occupy a central position, is relatively driving. There are no sudden drop-offs—there’s unease, but it’s not overwhelming. Instead, it’s welcoming, evoking a sense that even on a potentially lonesome and tired walk through barely lit city streets, there’s a chance to feel solidly—and peacefully—secure.
Twenty One Pilots focus on splashier moments across Scaled And Icy, but foggy surroundings seem visible through the (metaphorical) window—and the energy provided by the rest of the album helps those surroundings seem less foreboding. Ultimately, Scaled And Icy feels like an album-length expression of longing for—and gradually embracing—life-affirming vitality, and it’s great. Trekking through the album feels freshly invigorating.
Purchase this album at this link.