It comes as no shock that Twenty One Pilots’ latest release is yet another stylistic change. Since their debut self-titled record, the duo has gone through a multitude of changes, for better or for worse, maneuvering between rock, pop, and some variation of screamo-ballad combo. However, the shock factor here resides in how exactly they changed their style. With their past works, Twenty One Pilots always went for the “happy sound, depressive lyric” approach to their music, heavily exemplified through records like ‘Vessel’ and ‘Blurryface’. This time around, the happy sound remains but the lyrics almost feel void of depressive themes, rather focusing on optimism. Much like their previous releases, ‘Scaled and Icy’s stylistic switch brings a fresh breath of life for the group’s discography, both for better and for worse.
With this new sound, ‘Scaled and Icy’ reinvigorates their previous pop style found throughout ‘Vessel’ by delving deeper into the happy aesthetic while introducing a more synth-pop influence to the mix. Capitalizing on the composition of standalone single “Level of Concern,” the duo crafts an abundance of infectious grooves, catchy melodies, and classic synth leads that have an almost vintage tinge to them. Tracks like “Saturday” and “Choker” embrace this exuberant pop style with heavy reliance on electronic intervention to craft soundscapes full of vibrant synths and groovy beats. Complementarily, “Shy Away” and “Never Take It” establish themselves in an upbeat alternative way, prioritizing the usage of deep basslines and driving drum grooves, creating this happy sounding alternative/indie rock vibe that fits within the record. Taking the previous piano-centric jams of their debut and ‘Vessels’, “Good Day” and “Mulberry Street” take a different approach by including additional guitar leads, grooving basslines, and a more electronically influenced style to innovate the older compositional techniques with the duo’s newer stylistic approach. However, despite this general trend towards the happier end of the musical spectrum, a bit of Twenty One Pilots’ darker atmosphere remains subtly within the album. “The Outside” is heavily characterized by a darker, mysterious synth with an off-key guitar lead that creates a unique contrast from the rest of the records happier, optimistic display. Similarly, “No Chances” adorns itself with deep bass and Tyler Joseph’s signature depressive-sounding rapping that pushes itself to its darker roots, akin to “Pet Cheetah” from ‘Trench’ and “heavydirtysoul” from ‘Blurryface’.
Although the happier sound is somewhat different in style from previous efforts, the real change lies in the themes within the lyricism. Moving beyond the depressive, pessimistic lyrics of past records, ‘Scaled and Icy’ almost feels like a full 180 to more optimistic and joyous lyrical themes. Though this signals a better headspace for the context of the record, much of what made Twenty One Pilots’ enjoyable has been somewhat sacrificed to an extent. A lot of the album relies too much on basic lyrical composition and rather surface-level themes that don’t require a significant amount of thought to understand. Case in point: the chorus/hook of “Saturday.” Despite its catchiness, the chorus itself seems mundane and tedious in composition because it doesn’t really go anywhere and doesn’t add to the overall theme of the record aside from a fun, mindless jam. This kind of lyricism is scattered amongst ‘Scaled and Icy’ with verses like ”Shoot my life in shoot-em-up style/Her favorite movies, lowkey that throw off the maturity aspect of their lyricism. Nonetheless, Tyler Joseph’s lyricism does shine through these faults, redeeming itself in the bridge of “Choker” with the metaphor of the splinter and the almost begging chorus of “Redecorate.” However, this switch to happier lyrics, although a fresh thematic breath, fails to complement the new style as it finds itself in basic lyrical tropes and tedious phrasing.
This stylistic change won’t appeal to everyone, that’s a given. Each album has attracted new fans and pushed away others, and ‘Scaled and Icy’ is no different. As for me, Twenty One Pilots’ newest effort has just enough to digest that makes it interesting and a unique addition to their discography. Despite the lacking lyricism and the occasional repetitive nature of the tracks throughout the record, ‘Scaled and Icy’ shows the duo embracing yet another style by showing off their versatility and dynamic approach to composition, crafting interesting, catchy, and enjoyable tracks. Is it their best? No, but it’s the best version of Twenty One Pilots in this new era and style.