By Niamh Brown
Twenty One Pilots are back with their highly anticipated sixth studio album. ‘Scaled and Icy’ deviates from the darker tones of 2018’s ‘Trench’ and 2015’s ‘Blurryface’, reverting back to the alt-pop songs that were so prominent on 2013’s ‘Vessel.’
Scaled and Icy seeks to expand the world of DEMA that was so intricately established on Trench. This can be evidenced alone through Scaled and Icy being an anagram for ‘CLANCY IS DEAD’ (with Clancy having been the protagonist from Trench). However, the entire album was written whilst in Covid – 19 lockdown. Frontman Tyler Joseph reveals on album closer ‘Redecorate’ that the true meaning of the album title is to be ‘scaled back and in isolation’ – a feeling that has been almost universal over the past year.
Unlike the bombastic ‘Jumpsuit’ that kicked off Trench, album opener ‘Good Day’ slowly builds on itself in a way that is almost musical-esque. Whilst being of the cheerier calibre sonically, the track explores substantially darker themes : ‘Lost my job, my wife and child/homie just sued me.’ The repeated lyric ‘I’m alright’ presents an interesting dichotomy: the refrain is an outright denial of loss yet simultaneously an excision of grief.
The blending of introspective yet hopeful lyrics with the band’s genre-bending sound that many critics has always been the allure of Twenty One Pilots. Scaled and Icy follows suit with this idea yet presents a unique paradox that the band has explored few times before: many of the tracks on this record sound like they belong at a summer party. However, the lyrics explore themes of loss, fear and isolation.
One of the downfalls of this project however may stem from the deluge of breezy alt-pop tunes. Whilst each one is good in and of itself, there is little consistency with the flow of them. The transitions between tracks can be a little jarring in places. This is especially true in the former half of the album, specifically between ‘Choker’ and ‘Shy Away’. Whilst each song may be sonically different, the upbeat style of them seems to blend together upon first listen, leaving the listener with a sense of being unable to distinguish song from song in retrospect.
Perhaps the standout track on Scaled and Icy is the penultimate ‘No Chances’. This song serves as a pseudo sequel to Trench’s ‘Neon Gravestones’ – an open critique on the glorification of suicide. No Chances repetition of ‘We get bodies every day/ we want you home in one piece now’ harks back to the former’s denouncing of romanticising self-destruction whilst highlighting the importance of recovery. This has always been the driving force behind Twenty One Pilots’ oeuvre: the message that was committed to memory for fans of the band as far back as 2013, to ‘stay strong, live on, and power to the local dreamer.’
Whilst this motif may feel hidden behind the 80s Synths and jazzy production so evident on this album, it still remains at the forefront of the lyrics – perhaps this is the most evident in Shy Away’s ‘Don’t circle the track/just break the cycle in half.’
‘Keep your bliss – there’s nothing wrong with this’: Twenty One Pilots’ new album sets the benchmark for ambition
By Niamh Brown