Review Summary: The new norm
Following the release of their outstanding debut, twenty one pilots take a new approach to their sound. Yes, the crossover of pop, rock, and alternative is still present, but there is just something different about it. An increase of dependence on electronics and synths, Regional at Best
experiments and delves deeper into the realm of pop/alternative, utilizing the synths as the overall melodies of the albums. Alongside this, the overall drumming has increased, adding more complexity to the mix thanks to the talent brought to the table by newly recruited Josh Dun. However, not all is an improvement. In fact, this happens to be a step down in many ways. As this album leans more towards a demo album for almost half of the songs, a lot of the songs just sound underproduced compared to their fellow reworkings. But we aren’t here to compare, we’re here to see what we have, and what we have is pretty great as it is.
Ditching the piano reliant sound, much of Regional at Best
exercises a good use of pop contingent tones, resulting in an album of changing direction. That’s not to say the piano is entirely gone, songs like “Car Radio” have a very much alive and present piano driving the progressions, yet there is a definite deviation from what was established on twenty one pilots
. Of course, this change took a step back from what was almost a perfected tonality of their debut, however, it was monumental in terms of the establishment of the sound we associate with twenty one pilots today. Many songs like “Ode to Sleep”, “Holding on to You”, and “Trees” were all re-recorded for Vessels
, showing not only the importance of the songs to the band, but also twenty one pilots’ realization that they had finally found “their sound.”
Generally, the songs follow the same composition of beats. Most of the time, the synths provide harmony in the background (sometimes even leading the musical assault) with an underlying bass groove backing up the melodies. When analyzing their sound, Regional at Best
actually shows an ironically “happy” sound. Songs like “Glowing Eyes” and “Forest” apply the use of higher keys and layered vocals, giving an upbeat note to rather melancholy lyrics. When not promoting this cheerful display, twenty one pilots return to their rooted downcast mood in songs like “Kitchen Sink” and “Be Concerned.” Changing keys are often a definitive attribute of the album, but there always remains one thing constant. Josh Dun’s drumming.
With the addition of Josh, twenty one pilots’ drumming increased exponentially, enhancing the complexity as well as groove exhibited throughout the album. Rhythm and speed are often the main adjectives for such drumming, utilizing quick hi-hat bursts with just enough creativity involved to greatly enhance the experience. Dun’s ability to hit things is quite impressive, showing off his skill in “Guns for Hands” and “Holding onto You,” showcasing experimentation in using tom driven beats as well as fitting fills. Often times, the drums almost feel like they are guiding the song along their way, presenting the listener with changing beats and tempos that dictate the atmosphere of the song. Complementing all of these aspects Josh Dun brings forth, Tyler Joseph’s lyrics, vocals, and rapping take the reins and lead the album forward into victory.
Almost as if a continuation of the former album, Tyler Joseph follows through with lyrics calling out to others on a personal level, asking questions of identity, fear, and human nature when brought upon troubling circumstances. One look at “Kitchen Sink” will leave you questioning his motives of writing, wondering what he means and, honestly, whether his mind is okay as he begins moaning “Go Away! Go Away! Leave me alone! Leave me alone!
” eerily in the background. Lyrical viewpoints aside, Tyler ventures further into rapping and flowing and improves upon his melodies. “Ode to Sleep”, “Forest”, and “Kitchen Sink” contain some of his best rap performances in the band’s history, showing signs of his future niche in the band. Along with this, his vocals in choruses take a surprisingly major improvement, often hitting higher notes and embracing wider diversity in range. “Glowing Eyes” places Tyler on display as he sings lower registers in the verses while tackling those higher ranges in the chorus.
Accumulating all of the album’s assets together, Regional at Best
provides a new basis for the band’s style and tone for future albums in general. Granted, the album sometimes sounds flat and underproduced or unfinished in many ways, but what we have here is an album that was foundational for their future success in Vessels
. Although this album is rare, it still manages to be a monument of the band’s newly found sound, important to the band’s songwriting to this day. The rarest things can be the most precious.