CONTENT WARNING: This article has mentions of suicide, depression and other mental health problems. If you have been affected by anything mentioned in this report you can find support at the resources at the end of this article.
The popular alternative rock band Twenty One Pilots released their sixth studio album “Scaled and Icy” and added even more information to their big fictional universe. This album is for everyone: mega fans that know about the background story and creation of the lore around their musical storyline but also new listeners. It but also creates a hopeful and unique tone to the ongoing global pandemic.
At the beginning of the pandemic, the band released the song “Level of Concern” – this would mark the beginning of a series of songs about the different aspects of life during the current health crisis.
The lead singer Tyler Joseph explains that the music is purposefully more “colourful” to underline the importance of “the power of creativity, the power of imagination”. Since multiple lockdowns internationally have caused more intrinsic struggles and anxiety, the new sound is aiming to create a positive environment and “escape” from the harsh reality.
This record particularly is more colourful than other records – literally more colourful, and hopefully sonically as well.– Tyler Jospeh in kerrang.com
Joseph and Josh Dun, the two members of the band, have proved in the past that they do not shy away from political criticism and vulnerable insights into their mental health and psyche. Even though the musical atmosphere in this is more upbeat than what listeners are used to from the band, the lyrics still communicate the struggle of living in lockdown, dealing with personal thoughts in a small space and the possibility of death.
“Never take it” holds the government and media to account and questions the way information is being held against the everyday person. The narrative is to go against the establishment. The music itself is reassuring and uniting for the listener. The feeling of being understood and not alone is soothing and helpful under isolated circumstances.
The first song “Good Day” sets the tone on a positive outlook on life even if it gets hard. The lyrics discuss the possibility of everything that you have worked on suddenly getting taken away from you. “I know it’s hard to believe me/ it’s a good day” is meant to internalise the power of being in control of your happiness and wellbeing.
“Mulberry Street”, the seventh track on the album, stands out as a hymn for the odd people in the world. In the songwriting “we” is purposefully used to create a sense of community between the fandom and other people that can relate to the song. Mulberry Street is a popular lane in New York City. The lyrics “Get out of thy way/ we’re moving sideways” underlines that it is good to go against the grain if it makes the journey more enjoyable.
The last song “Redecorate” is a story of three different people that are overthinking what happens after their death. Although it is highly implicated, it is not specified if it is about suicide. The thought of how loved ones have to deal with the residues of one’s existence after one passed. The track is a very thoughtful one and even though the topic is heavy to think about, the melody and the beat keep it upbeat and positive.
Twenty One Pilots are outstandingly good at creating a monochromic sound for an album. Every song addresses a different topic but it all ties into the overall narrative of mental health, positive self-responsibility and the difficulty of being left alone with one’s thoughts in limited space.
The production carries this storyline through a unique sound that flows through the whole art piece and makes it an enjoyable audible experience. The band is known for its own lore and background stories that usually stand behind their albums. However, this one is made for everyone who is willing to listen or wants to lose themselves in 40 minutes of alternative music.
The artists made a clear point in not only making music for their fans who are invested in their fictive world but also for the everyday person that could need a little escape in these odd times of history. The album is a true pandemic baby and marks a new era of creativity, unity and inspiration.
My favourite tracks are: Mulberry Street, Saturday, Redecorate and No Chances
Saturday is a nostalgic song about the times before the pandemic where people were able to go out on the weekends. It underlines the feeling of everything being concentrated in one space. Work, leisure activities, sports, the limited social life in your bubble: all in the smallest space. The music is positive and communicates that life is more than accessible in the future as well. The little conversation between Joseph and his wife underlines that the support of our loved ones is the most reassuring aspect of living together and pushing through.
While the album is accessible for everyone, “No Chances” hints at the old lore of the Twenty One Pilots universe. The Banditos (a group of rebels and the protagonists) are fleeing from the Nine Bishops (the antagonists) of Dema (a fictional dystopian place). In the songwriting, the story is told from three different perspectives. You do not have to know everything about the background story to understand that the Nine Bishops are a metaphor for abuse of power, fear, depression, and more. What the Banditos are trying to do is eventually escape this numbness of mental health problems and return to a life full of self-control and happiness.
I would give this album 4.5 of 5 stars.
This album shows perfectly why Twenty One Pilots is exceptional at making music that engages the crowds and carries a story at the same time. The paradox of being positive towards the future and keeping your head up in difficult times and fighting your inner demons under unusual pressure is perfectly portrayed. The art piece is accessible and deep even without further knowledge of previous albums and EPs. I, personally, am very grateful to have some music that I can relate to deeply, that I can sing in the shower and hum in my daily life. The authentic depiction of reality, the conflict between hope and defeat is unique.
Featured image credit: Glide Magazine
If you have been affected by suicidal thoughts, depression or other mental health issues, you can find support at these organisations.
Samaritans can offer a safe place for you to talk any time you like about whatever’s getting to you – 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Phone: 116 123
Breathing Space are a free, confidential phone service for anyone in Scotland experiencing low mood, depression or anxiety. Phone: 0800 83 85 87.