Vessel by twenty | one | pilots
If you saw Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun walking down the sidewalk, you probably wouldn’t think much of them as musicians. After all, many of the world’s greatest artists go unrecognized everywhere except when their creations are exposed to the world. Joseph and Dun, known together as twenty | one | pilots, are a music duo from Columbus, Ohio. I was introduced to twenty | one | pilots’ debut not even half-aware of what I was in for. twenty | one | pilots was a song in the back of my mind for a while before I listened to them. I remember considering them many times. “What if I like them?” I’d think, but I never seemed to find the right time. After reading a review of them in a magazine, I picked this album up off the shelf, bought it, and sat down to await my fate. I had never really liked songs that this style reminded me of, never had I considered I could like an album with more rapping than singing. However, what I had experienced after the disc had stopped spinning was 12 dynamic, catchy songs, an overflowing mind full of clever lyrics, and I felt that, somehow, everything was going to be okay.
The starting point to the album, Ode to Sleep, is probably the hardest to stomach for the first-time twenty | one | pilots listener. This song is heavier than the rest of the album, but shows the listener what they’re in for: forty-five minutes of unpredictable, unique style and honest, truthful lyrics. The song alternates between heavy, synth and rap filled verses and bouncy, melodic choruses. A lyrical highlight was difficult to find in this song, due to the vast amount of inspiring ones, but my choice was, “We open our eyes ’cause we’re told that we must, and the trees wave their arms and the clouds try to plead, desperately yelling there’s something we need.” Joseph often uses lots of imagery in his songs, fueling the urgency he is trying to convey.
You may have heard the album’s first single, Holding Onto You, for it’s starting to receive radio play. This song is a clear favorite for me, because its music is incredibly catchy and rapped verses are flawless and hard to perform. What also makes this song so infectious to me are the changing styles throughout the song. One moment, it’ll be reminiscent of electronica, then poppy, then full of piano. If there is one song you consider listening to off this album, make it Holding Onto You.
Another favorite, Migraine, made its way to the top of the ranks for me because of its insane imagery and symbolism. This song is also soothing to the listener, with its chorus, “Am I the only one I know waging my wars behind my face and above my throat? Shadows will scream that I’m alone, but I know we’ve made it this far, kid.” To feature all the lyrics I find brilliant would take far more than a paragraph, though one of my favorite lines because of the rhyme and simple poetry of the words is, “I don’t know why they always seem so dismal. Thunderstorms, clouds, snow, and a slight drizzle. Whether it’s the weather or the letters by my bed, sometimes death seems better than the migraine in my head.” The lyrics also say that the migraine headache referred to in the song symbolizes Joseph’s depression and judgement of himself. Migraine is definitely a mouthful of a song, but once you’ve listened to it enough, you will see all it has to offer.
A short, sweet song, House of Gold, full of ukelele, and happier lyrics-wise, is about Joseph’s mother. With its thoughtful lyrics, “I will make you queen of everything you see. I’ll put you on the map. I’ll cure you of disease,” it shows how important his relationship is with her. For me, House of Gold serves as a break from the heavier content of the rest of the album.
The next song, Car Radio, is the black sheep of the album, with all its lyrics rapped and usually nothing more than a piano backdrop with a simple beat. However, it was the song that initially turned me on o twenty | one | pilots, it was so unique, I couldn’t possibly think of a song that could even some close to its style. The story portrayed in the song also caught my attention. “I have these thoughts, so often I ought to replace that slot with what I once bought, ’cause somebody stole my car radio, and now I just sit in silence.” In this song, the car radio is the only things separating Joseph from the disturbing contents of his mind, and soon, without it, he begins contemplating all things from fear, faith, and sleep.
The sixth song is Semi-Automatic. This track has references to Joseph’s struggle with insomnia, and negative feelings that arise at night, similar in feel to Ode to Sleep. My favorite lyrics are, “I’m semi-automatic, my prayers schizophrenic, but I’ll live on,” another light of hope for the lost, glum listener.
Screen is a more lighthearted song, but with the looming melancholy of depression and mental illness. The breezy, upbeat piano in this song masks the group singing, ever-repeatedly, “We’re broken people.” This song seems specially tailored for a live setting, with its easy to remember chorus and bridge. I can imagine a sunny, outdoor venue in the bright sun every time I hear this song.
The next song is particularly catchy, with a beat perfect for clapping or stomping to. The Run and Go is also one of my favorites because of the imagery in the verses, “I am up against the wall, the wall. Oh, I hear them coming down the hall. I have killed a man and all I know is I am on the run and go.” The story has a sort of mystery to it, there’s not much said about this occurrence and it’s almost masked up by the lively music.
Fake You Out is another electronica influenced song on this album. With its heavy beat and difficult, rapid, rap bridge, it has recently become a favorite for me. My favorite line in this song, and perhaps my favorite on the whole album, “Our brains are sick but that’s okay,” was almost unrecognizable to me as having such meaning, but in one exhausted moment revealed itself to me, a beacon of hope and understanding in a time when my depression was trying hard to suck me in.
Another favorite of mine, Guns For Hands, was one of the songs I had the treat of hearing live. It’s very creative in its use of figurative language, as in the lines, “I know that you all have guns, and you never put the safety on. And you all have plans to take it, don’t take it.” Here, Joseph is not talking about actual guns, but has stated that it means that these people have the ability to hurt themselves, they’re not faking their struggle. Guns For Hands is that call at 3 am that gives you hope and tells you someone else understands.
A song that starts out quiet but ends magnificently, Trees, is darker in melody and mood to the rest of the album. Most of its lyrics are, “I know where you stand, silent in the trees, for that’s where I am, silent in the trees.” Its lyrics are relatively simple, its how they’re repeated that really brings emphasis and creates a grand painting of a song. It creates the mental image of someone lost, just out of reach of what they’re looking for, maybe someone else, maybe truth, maybe themselves.
The final song on the album is often looked over due to its lack of power that is often given to the last song on an album. Nevertheless, Truce takes the album to the finish line in a quiet way, not boastful, nor arrogant. The most prominent line in the song, “Stay alive. Stay alive for me,” urges the listener to keep fighting, don’t give up, even if all is lost to you. The music then drones out to a sleepy stop, then the introspective silence after the click of the motionless disc.
After you finish your first listen of Vessel, you might find yourself finding new meaning to the songs every next time you listen to it. This was the case for me, these songs played in the back of my mind, coming out and guiding me in every one of my dark moments. Whether you regularly struggle with your sanity and happiness, or just want something fresh and unique to listen to, Vessel will be waiting on that shelf, waiting for you to listen to it yourself.