‘Blurryface’ finished as 2016’s top rock album on Streets Talkin’s year-end charts; the duo will follow it with the just-announced LP ‘Trench’ on Oct. 5.
Twenty One Pilots aren’t here for the pop game. When 2015’s Blurryface took off and produced two top five singles (along with their No. 2-peaking Suicide Squad offering “Heathens”), Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun became accidental pop stars, suburban weirdos whose incendiary, post-genre approach to alternative connected with far more misfits than anyone reasonably expected. Commercial records were set, monocles popped out, and Twenty One Pilots emerged from the Blurryface cycle improbable, yet unquestioned, superstars.
With the first two tracks shared from the big follow-up, Twenty One Pilots sound mystically unconcerned with following on that crossover success (though there’s a good chance Trench’s commercial figures do, anyway). Released today, twin singles “Jumpsuit” and “Nico and the Niners” register the high end of what one could have hoped for from the duo post-Blurryface: their aggressive experimentalism sharper, their clunky restlessness smoothed out.
“Jumpsuit” is a bass-driven dub stomper that ends with a screamy breakdown and “Nico and the Niners,” a paranoid reggae safari concluded by woozy, down-pitched vocals. This was a juncture where Twenty One Pilots could have leaned into a much more craven strain of radio dial reggae, basically re-written “Rude,” added some sirens or other TOP signifiers, and clinched the top spot whenever Spotify curates the playlist “2010s & Chillin.” Or invented some Post Malone tendencies. Instead, the band that once warned against staying in your lane buckled down in the one it'd forged itself.
Twenty One Pilots are a mighty commercial force, but these songs just don’t sound like Top 40 radio standbys, at least not near the level of “Stressed Out” and “Ride.” Even with a radio edit, the pit-opening ending of “Jumpsuit” would still be hilariously jarring alongside “Mine” and “No Tears Left to Cry,” and the lyrics of “Nico” (characters fleeing an evil, walled city, suggesting a plot which Trench supposedly expands on) are probably too arcane to sit well with pop program directors.
“Jumpsuit” is probably the stronger fit, even if its punkish texture has been largely missing from that world since Paramore, Fall Out Boy, AFI, and others occupied a small crossover space in the late '00s. At least one of these songs should find an extended home on alternative radio, which has been the band’s most natural fit since it signed with Fueled By Ramen in 2012. Two tracks off 2013’s Vessel went top 10 at alternative before Twenty One Pilots became a household name, and it’s likely to be the realm where Joseph and Dun are immortalized, whenever pop stops paying attention.
Simply by sharing these songs on a Wednesday, Twenty One Pilots are shrugging their shoulders at Streets Talkin’s charts. If they’d have waited for Friday morning, when Streets Talkin’s tracking week begins, their bounty of early streams would have been logged in the same weekly bundle, optimizing “Jumpsuit” and “Nico” for their highest possible chart positions. A well-timed, well-crafted Twenty One Pilots single would actually have a chance to debut at No. 1 on the Hot 100, something virtually no other rock band can currently claim. But like the album-oriented artists they've always been, they're playing the long game.
And oddly enough, the two-song rollout reflects a strategy superstars like Drake, Ed Sheeran, the Weeknd, and Camila Cabello have succeeded with in recent years. By sharing two songs at once, artists get to satisfy different parts of their fanbases and battle-test the commercial bility of two sounds, head-to-head. Of the above group, “One Dance,” “Shape of You,” “I Feel It Coming,” and “Havana” all emerged from this model. This doesn't mean either ”Jumpsuit” or “Nico” is destined for the same, but after a week's reception, Twenty One Pilots and their team will at least have a good idea of where to travel next.