Review: Twenty One Pilots – Trench

I’ve discovered Twenty One Pilots more than 3 years ago, but somehow I’ve associated them with similar indie pop rock acts like The 1975, but with a hint of SoundCloud edgy rap that seems to be so popular nowadays.

But even as I started discovering he depth of their lyrics and the meaning behind them, all the stories about love and lost, despair, depression, anxiety, struggles with mental health – everything seemed either a really well curated image or a very sincere outlook into someone’s life.

The duo consists of the sometimes lyrical genius that is Tyler Joseph and drummer Josh Dun, but make no mistake – however small, the group manages to paint realistic pictures of how much of our lives is struggling to get past today.

Trench, their latest album, released in October 2018, explores mental health, suicide and doubt, continuing with similar themes the band touched before with their previous releases. The band benefits from a solid fan base and a relationship with them that is both extraordinary and scary, as they communicate with them the meanings of songs, the process of writing all of this, fictional themes and characters and even cities built around their work, and fans not only engage in this, but they perpetuate this knowledge, without the usual elite-ness that comes from having inside information on something that no one else knows.

Trench debuts with Jumpsuit, which was also the lead single of the new album. Signifying his fight with doubt and societal pressure, Joseph’s lyrics are pretty self explanatory, showing vulnerability and fright and insecurities, and I think that this is what Twenty One Pilots does best – showing their true self to anyone that bothers listening, and comforting them and letting them know that it’s ok to be scared and alone.
Musically, Jumpsuit is actually a hard rock composition, with heavy bass lines and with Joseph’s voice going from soft whispers to heavy screams and his signature falsetto.

Levitate, although a bit too minimalist and seemingly simplistic in composition, picks up from Jumpsuit left off, referencing another fan favorite, Car Radio. Joseph’s rapping combined with Dun’s drumming makes this song seem primal, but at the same time, it bears the signature of both of them.

Morph, which can only be described as a philosopher’s train of thoughts about life, death and afterlife, is scarily depressing, as it echoes thoughts that most of us had at some point or another. Tyler Joseph is known for his sincerity in his approach to mental health and how much he cares for the well being of their fan base, so I’m guessing that most of them will recognize themselves in the bleak lyrics.

I’m surrounded and I’m hounded
There’s no „above”, or „under”, or „around” it
For „above” is blind belief and „under” is sword to sleeve
And „around” is scientific miracle, let’s pick „above” and see
For if and when we go „above”, the question still remains
Are we still in love and is it possible we feel the same?
And that’s when going „under” starts to take my wonder
But until that time
I’ll morph to someone else, I’m just a ghost

My personal favorite, My Blood, is about being loyal, loving and supporting someone that goes through the darkest of times. It helps that the video also makes a connection with mental health issues, supporting the theory that the band is really open in breaking down barriers and stereotypes.

If there comes a day
People posted up at the end of your driveway
They’re callin’ for your head and they’re callin’ for your name
I’ll bomb down on ‘em, I’m comin’ through
Do they know I was grown with you?
If they’re here to smoke, know I’ll go with you
Just keep it outside, keep it outside, yeah

Chlorine was one of the songs I thought I was actively avoiding, only to find out that I was actually loving and knowing by heart. Taken literally, the chemical compound is known for its primary use as an agent in bleaches and disinfectants, and the metaphor of the song is to have an anchor in your life that helps you purge away all the dark thoughts.

Sippin’ on straight chlorine, let the vibes slide over me
This beat is a chemical, beat is a chemical
When I leave don’t save my seat, I’ll be back when it’s all complete
The moment is medical, moment is medical
Sippin’ on straight chlorine

And because an ode to love was needed, Smithereens has its place on this record about feelings and thoughts. Dedicated to Tyler Joseph’s wife, the song is translating into plain words whatever is happening in Joseph’s heart, and it’s sweet and cheesy and amazing all at once.

Dealing with suicide and the glorification treatment in the media, Neon Gravestones is a slow burning rap song that feels blaming, but justifying it at the same time. With a very conflicting message, you can feel the indecision in Tyler Joseph’s rap, and if one verse you agree to something, the next one will find you agreeing with something completely different.
And that’s the beauty of Twenty One Pilots – everything is ok, you don’t get judged, you don’t get stigmatized. It’s like all they ask of you is to get better…

Don’t get me wrong
The rise in awareness
Is beating a stigma that no longer scares us
But for sake of discussion
In spirit of fairness
Could we give this some room for a new point of view?
And, could it be true that some could be tempted
To use this mistake as a form of aggression?
A form of succession?
A form of a weapon?
Thinking „I’ll teach them”
Well, I’m refusing the lesson
It won’t resonate in our minds
I’m not disrespecting what was left behind
Just pleading that „it” does not get glorified
Maybe we swap out what it is that we hold so high
Find your grandparents or someone of age
Pay some respects for the path that they paved
To life, they were dedicated
Now, that should be celebrated

The Hype is such simple music, it’s really hard to explain it. Being so straightforward, about the different way we experience our internal standards versus whatever the others are expecting from us, it’s a reminder to slow down and stop being so hard on ourselves.

Following the universe built by Joseph, Nico and the Niners, based in part on the Nicolas Bourbaki legend, which was actually a group of 9 mathematicians, and continuing old themes explored by the group, such as the jumpsuit, Dema and the bishops, is a rap song about resisting organized religion and finding your own way.

What I say when I want to be enough
What a beautiful day for making a break for it
We’ll find a way to pay for it
Maybe from all the money we made razor-blade stores
Rent a race horse and force a sponsor
And start a concert, a complete diversion
Start a mob and you can be quite certain
We’ll win but not everyone will get out

Probably the most optimistic song, lyrically wise, Cut My Lip talks about going through hard times, even if you feel beaten down. A simple, slow burner as well, but really uplifting.

Bandito is a ethereal song that connects to the themes of the album – leaving Dema, accepting your fate, trying to become someone else, trying to find purpose in creativity and human connection.

I created this world
To feel some control
Destroy it if I want
So I sing someone
Folina
Sahlo Folina
Sahlo

For me, the most forgettable song is Pet Cheetah. Apparently about overcoming writer’s block, the song is a weird mixture of rap, techno and rock, a bit of forcibly pretentious without much substance. Much like writer’s block, I presume.

Legend is another love song, albeit this time is for Joseph’s grandfather, who passed away this year. Forever connecting this song to my own personal troubled times, it’s an uplifting way to cope with such loss.

Then the day that it happened
I recorded this last bit
I look forward to having
A lunch with you again

My other personal favorite, Leave the City, talks about suicide and maybe leaving behind things that you have no control over, or things that you don’t feel connected to anymore. It talks about lost battles, about lost human connections, lost faith, lost minds. It’s such a simple song, but so heavy on my heart…

In time, I will leave the city
For now, I will stay alive

Last year
I needed change of pace
Couldn’t take the pace of change
Moving hastily
But this year
Though I’m far from home
In TRENCH I’m not alone
These faces facing me

Review: An Evening With Jason Mraz and His Guitar

A few years back I have discovered one of the greatest musical gifts I have ever received, because most of the artists I hold dear are the ones I discovered through an extensive period of trials and errors, and I must admit that Jason Mraz is one of them. I remember an internet cafe in my hometown, circa 2005, browsing Yahoo Music (remember that?) and stumbling upon Mraz’s Wordplay. I was so amazed by his flow, his witty lyrics and genuine feel good vibe, I became an instant fan.

After a few years, I moved to Bucharest and I had so many lows, with only his guitar and lyrics, as well as some Angels and Airwaves and Snow Patrol and Marilyn Manson to keep me warm.

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Last night I had one of the best nights of my life, no doubt about it. Jason Mraz finally graced us with his presence, an event titled „An evening with Jason Mraz and his guitar”, and (I might add) his keyboard and harmonica. Two beautiful hours of love, music and incredibile words, this is the only way I can describe Mraz’s live presence.

Jason Mraz’s good natured spirit transcends the language barrier, his voice carried us last night to the moon and back, it gave us dreams and reasons to live, it gave us love and sadness and grief and hope, and I will forever be greatful for this opportunity to see one of my favorite artists bear his soul in front of me.

Just a small snippet (from a different concert, I can’t be bothered to record live acts and miss the good stuff):

I was happy hearing Plane and A Beautiful Mess and Butterfly and Please (Don’t Tell Her) and Mr. Curiosity and Tonight not Again, and many more! I’m sorry he missed Wordplay and Geek in the Pink, but I’ll take what I can get:

And through timeless words in priceless pictures
We’ll fly like birds not of this earth
And tides they turn and hearts disfigure
But that’s no concern when we’re wounded together
And we tore our dresses and stained our shirts
But it’s nice today, oh the wait was so worth it

PS: I will not post a setlist for this concert, just because for this kind of event Jason Mraz does not follow a pre-established list of songs. He just goes where the vibe takes him. And also because this is more heartfelt than anything I saw in a long, long, looooong time…

Let’s Talk About Ramsay Bolton

who let the dogs outA few years back I sang an ode to the most incredible pop culture current ever – the appreciation of the villain. I sang praises to Loki, and Bane, and The Joker itself, underlining the exceptional quality of being entirely charismatic in a world of destruction.

This week’s Game of Thrones gave us one of the best episodes (if not the best, as some say) and a battle to enjoy. What’s left of this battle is the collective information that Ramsay Bolton is now dog food, but boy, does he deliver!

Suffice to say that casting Iwan Rheon was the thing that made me watch Game of Thrones regularily. After enjoying his presence in Misfits, a quirky show with plenty of to be-stars and very real in portraing teenage angst, the news that he’s gonna play a new character in the ultimate high fantasy HBO production was very intriguing. After some digging, because I haven’t finished reading the books, I learned that his character was at least evil, and thus, interesting.

I’m a sucker for Rheon, whom I consider one of the greatest actors of his generation, because he’s got that Sunday school boy face and the eyes of a madman – kinda like our little hobbit, Elijah Wood. This combination always catches my eye and interest, so I started binging and enjoying Ramsey.

This is not to say that I agree with his way of living. No way! I’m all for the good guys. But Ramsay has that viciousness that lures you in, and you only realize that when it’s too late. His character is demanding your full attention, his gore will make you sick and his capable mind will only make you envious of its power.

Iwan Rheon was the unnamed leader of prime time television evil for his entire run on Game of Thrones. His Ramsay was the ultimate villain, mastering the fear and plotting torture with a smile on his beautiful, angelic face. A part of me is sad that this amazing work of art will not be present next week on my little screen. A part of me is happy with the way his life and death we’re handled – not some greater than life transformation from bad to good, but a former’s victim revenge. A part of me is in awe that I could ever like such a person. And another part of me refuses to watch Game of Thrones again.

He was the greatest villain of our time, and nothing can fill the void he left.

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Review: IAMX – Metanoia Tour 2016

Last time I saw IAMX live, I was complaining about the static audience, but nothing had prepared me for March 14th. Nothing!

IAMX has released two more albums since our last encounter, one of which is practically amazing, and the other one is Metanoia. I thought about reviewing it a few times, but somehow it felt redundant for me to do it.

iamxMetanoia is a weird, weird album. It is said to be rooted deep into Chris’ depression, and it certainly sounds like it. However, early fans will love it, because it sounds so much like The Alternative and Kiss + Swallow, without the lyrical depth that made me scream „Chris, you decadent god!„. Newer fans might be a little confused, though… Metanoia is so rough, so blunt, painful at times and confusing. The album is missing the poetry that makes Chris what he is.

This is the first time I had to wait (not counting the pouring rain at the Killers & White Lies concert) so much to see one of my favorite bands. IAMX got a little lost on the Transylvanian roads, but the wait was totally worth it. Even though the band started playing 3 hours after the intended timeline.

As usual, Chris was so visual. The background played on loop disturbing images of love and loss, of hate and despair, of desert, naked bodies and broken hopes. How else would you know you’re at an IAMX concert?!

He started violently with I Come With Knives, one of the best songs he ever wrote. His keyboard players were demanding all of the attention, yet his voice managed to rule us all.

I never really liked The Alternative – not the song, and not the album, but this time it felt different. This time, Chris had a beautiful crowd all to himself, all of whom paid to see and hear him, and all of us were his devoted fans. In this light, the song made so much sense than it did a few years ago.

Happiness was the first song off Metanoia, and one of the few I really like. Depressing, raw and broken, Chris sang of despair and what more could I ask for? I was truly happy then.

No Maker Made Me is my personal anthem off Metanoia. I truly love the song, the message, the sound of it. I like its bluntness and the raw feeling I get when I listen to it, especially the screaming part of „you fucking sinner”…

In the Tear Garden we meet again. A song with so much meaning, so special and sad, it could only be followed by OCDEM.

Oh Cruel Darkness Embrace Me feels very ambivalent to me now. I sorta have a love-hate relationship with it, though the song is great. Sometimes it feels like irony, sometimes it plays out like demand-able hope. Who says it’s not the both of them?

Last time when I saw IAMX, Spit It Out ended the concert. It’s still my favorite song, my sad song, my beautiful song, and I really thought that’s the best I can get out of it. Yet, somehow, Chris outdone himself. Spit It Out grew up and this metamorphosis was incredible on so many levels. The song sounded like Chris was covering an oldie, so different, so mellow, still angst-y and depressing. I wish I could listen to this version and dissect it all day long, because it’s so different, yet so familiar.

Nightlife is one of Chris’s most used songs in movies and TV shows. You can hear it in How To Get Away With Murder (I think), in vampire movies and so on. This track reminds me of 90s ravers, even though I was never part of that scene. It has urgency, it’s raw, it’s primal and wild, and one of the best songs written by Chris. Even though it’s not universal, I really appreciated the inclusion on this set-list.

The holy trio of Metanoia was up next. Insomnia, North Star and Aphrodisiac followed up what was, I think, one of the best concerts I’ve been to. Insomnia is so demanding, so lost, but there comes North Star, determined and mature. Only Aphrodisiac can be played next, because it’s the only song suited for this color scheme. All three songs have different shades of grey, but Aphrodisiac is so evil, plotting weird stuff under tones of make up and promoting promiscuity in a way that allows you to go through the gates of heaven.

And because Chris is the master of emotional roller-coasting (is that even a word?!), he ends this with the amazing Your Joy Is My Low. This is one of the first songs I listened from IAMX, so I hold it dear and close. Keyboards all over the place, jerky rhythm, a bassline to die for and the amazing poetry that made me fell in love. With such lyrics, who can judge me?

You shift the play, push the curve to sit between your thighs
It’s a sign, it’s time to exercise the lines
You want the double cut through to wet, invade and slide
You slide and I’m awake and I’m the slave tonight

You lie, you lie to spare my life
You needed it, he tasted you inside out

Say it, your joy, your joy is my low
So you want yourself to stop
Say it, your joy, your joy is my low
And when you crack the whip, I crawl again

How can you remain complete after hearing this live? After witnessing Chris’s debauchery with such unaffectedness that makes me run after his bus tour and beg him to take me with them?

Of course, this could only be followed by Kiss + Swallow. Electronica through the roof! The bass rules this piece, and the way Chris says „zero” is so sinful and lovely…

It’s only natural I should admit by now the fact that listening to I Am Terrified live scared me. Not because of the lyrics, but because of the mismatch. It felt weird to hear it after the Kraftwerk-like gem that is Kiss + Swallow, however it wasn’t that bad. Just awkward. And sad. Terribly sad.

If the first encore came with Kiss + Swallow, the second one saw me amazed by the fact that Bring Me Back a Dog is still a thing. It’s one of my favorite songs, and this time Chris had a whole army spitting these beautiful lyrics back at him with voracity and passion. It was amazing!

The night ended with Mercy, one of the songs I avoid at all costs. Well, I avoid it after the first 60-70 seconds. It’s beautifully written, of course, and the vocals are perfect for it. But the chorus makes my heart ache, I almost feel like crying, so I try to keep myself sane by avoiding it.

I thought that this concert will bring me nothing new. Boy, was I wrong! Last time, I complained that Chris needed a better audience, but this time everyone present was there to support and love him. We were all one soul, mixed together with agony, anticipation, love, distrust, disappointment, hope and Chris. I’m so glad I was there, this was the concert I’ve been waiting for two years now.

Pic. The whole setlist here.

Review: Brandon Flowers – The Desired Effect

I’ve been a The Killers fan since 2005, and they are one of the most important bands I stumbled upon during those dark days post-highschool dramedy that was my life, so the solo efforts of Brandon Flowers were a must listen, at least for me.

Flamingo was a mediocre album, so it took me a while to get on board with The Desired Effect. But boy, it did have it!

Dreams Come True is a great opener, filled with promises and great poetry written by Mr. Flowers, the god himself, and it benefits from its weird choice of 80s sound combined with some gospel-y vocals. I could see myself driving on a highway, not a care in the world, knowing that everything will be ok. (9.5/10)

Can’t Deny My Love was chosen as a lead single, and it has that anthem-y feel that Flowers seems to love. Still 80s, still filled with synths, a great tune overall, but it fades quickly when compared to the other songs from the album. (8/10)

If you ever wanted to hear a new kind of Bronski Beat, I Can Change is just perfect. Brandon Flowers’ pleas are amazingly tuned into that awkward request employed by the song. Oh, and Neil Tennant! (8/10)

Still Want You is a promise, just like the whole album. Perfectly in tune with my inner self, filled with doubt, but also with certitude, you can „smell” the maturity in Flowers. (9/10)

I wish I could say more about Between Me and You, a song that, with all its Killers-y sound, feels so Flowers-y at the same time, but all I can really say is it delivers yet another promise from this great man from Nevada. (8.5/10)

Synths and trumpets, the backbone of the 80s, mixed with a disco feel, Lonely Town is the perfect anthem for the teenager in you. (9/10)

Diggin’ Up the Heart will most likely please the old The Killers fans, as it’s definitely one of the songs that bears its signature. Angst-y and valiant, I can’t say I don’t dig it, even though it lacks a personal note. (8/10)

Never Get You Right starts off as a Las Vegas story gone wrong, but then it fades into this beautifully crafted 80s gem that is layered with love and despair at the same time. (9/10)

This time touching the glam rock of the 80s, Untangled Love seems to float in a sea of indecision. With pleading vocals, and guitars to lead the way, I’m guessing that this is the most impersonal song off the album. You can’t pinpoint it on Flowers, or The Killers, or anything else, but what it seems to lack in personality is brought forward by the determination in completing it, so that must be something, I guess… (6/10)

The Way It’s Always Been explores the familiar route taken by so many The Killers songs before, but it does so in a melodic way that almost sounds like a prayer. I’d say that it’s a good way to end the almost perfect album of the Killers frontman, but I think that it kinda lacks hope. (8.5/10)

The Desired Effect is a great album, one of the greatest that feature Flowers on the vocals. It lacks the experimentation perceived on Flamingo, but it also helps him get an appropriate, personal voice. The songs blend in perfectly with Flowers’ voice, his lyrics and themes, and the extensive use of 80s sound is mesmerizing. This one’s a keeper!

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