TWENTY ONE PILOTS, The MUTEMATH Sessions: Complementary Quirks

Ohio native, Twenty One Pilots, are achieving the impossible: becoming mainstream whilst still drawing inspiration from smaller pools of music.

These genre evasive, musical rugrats who kind of revel in the fact you might not like them are, for some reason, fitting in. But with a sound strange enough to overcome the noise of the general rush, they’ve remained distinctive. For a band who’s fans deem themselves a ‘clique’, it’s somewhat baffling how they’ve managed to climb the charts so fast.

Twenty One Pilots are like this transparent oil flowing effortlessly through the mug of the main channels. They refuse to mix and ignore much of the industry around them, resenting it almost, yet radio stations are still playing their songs. And, it’s purely about the music with them.

To highlight this, the band recently released what they’re calling ‘reimagined’ tracks and they did so for free. This was refreshing and what every Twenty One Pilots fan has been waiting for, I think.

Basically, the duo allowed supporting act MUTEMATH to remix 5 of their most popular songs. This live session, entitled ‘the MUTEMATH sessions’, was filmed and uploaded to the band’s YouTube channel. A session which, like most Twenty One Pilots’ video content – and that’s including most music videos – was directed by long time friend Real Bear Media.

It’s important to note that this is the first time Twenty One Pilots have ever collaborated with another band, aside from a short performance with ASAP Rocky at the VMAs in 2015. Never one for inauthenticity, Twenty One Pilots clearly have a lot of faith in their relationship with MUTEMATH. It takes a lot of trust to willingly hand over a piece of finished work and say, ‘Here, I trust you’ll do whatever you want with this and I’m positive I’ll love it.’

Embracing the concept that art is never truly finished, these reimagined tracks come together to form an album all on their own. And, it’s an orchestration of risks.

Credit goes to entirely to MUTEMATH for the music production and the band’s frontman, Paul Meany, who mixed and mastered everything. Alone, MUTEMATH sound dreamy where Twenty One Pilots prefer dark tones. Together, it’s like listening to two duelling dragons, except the dragons are more fond of one another than they are afraid. The two bands are merely challenging each other and both rise to the occasion with majesty. It’s a nice example of what happens when one quirk complements another, creating something totally unique.

Admittedly, as a long-time fan of the band, I did not like Heathens – or the poorly edited nightmare that was Suicide Squad. However, upon listening to MUTEMATH’s version, I honestly fell in love with the song that originally made me feel a little discouraged. And, I think this is exactly what Twenty One Pilots wanted to happen.

Heathens was clearly created within limits. You can hear the music almost choking on itself as it repeats, and repeats and repeats. It’s also stupidly overplayed at this point. By adding MUTEMATH’s Roy Mitchell-Cardenas on bass at the beginning and pressing and pulling more emotional peaks and troughs out of the backing track, the song fulfils the potential that it’s been dying to.

My personal theory is that, as lead signer Tyler Joseph hates the idea of putting out meaningless content, Heathens is actually about much more than Suicide Squad. I’m almost certain it’s the bands way of voicing their concerns for the current state of the world: the rising rates of terrorism, inequality, sexism, racism and xenophobia. The sadder and more reflective tone at the beginning of this version of Heathens only highlighted such to me.

Twenty One pilots played the Bataclan theatre just one night before the Paris attacks in November, 2015 that left 129 music lovers dead. This led to them cancelling the rest of their European tour, concerned for the safety of their fans, their crew and their families who were on the road with them. The event clearly shook them and when I first heard Heathens I was convinced that this was their response. They’re clever; they knew the song would be heard by millions across the world. I just can’t imagine them not using such an opportunity and the platform it provided their ideas.

But I digress. I felt that MUTEMATH’s remix of Heathens was finally the beautifully lucid version that I’d been listening hard for.

The second track was Heavydirtysoul. This was originally a poem written and performed by Tyler Joseph, which actually marks the conception of ‘Blurryface’.

 

Though MUTEMATH’s version doesn’t veer far from the original, it is a fantastic example of why Twenty One Pilots are a band that you need to see live in order to fully get it. Hearing Tyler Joseph’s vocals is one thing, but seeing him perform is another. Heavydirtysoul really showcases Tyler’s vocal versatility not to mention his poetic flare. From rapping to singing to screaming, the song from beginning to end is a myriad of sounds and emotions.

Ride has been a popular choice for radio stations over the summer due to it’s relevant faux reggae beats. Here however, MUTEMATH introduce newly synthesised tones that I can only describe as ‘bubbly’. The music fluctuates, rises and pops, falling only to inflates again. The song reminds me of gas escaping a cracked coke can and it is a song about release, so in a way that makes sense. This eases listeners into a calming ebb in the overall soundtrack, following the harsher sounds of Heathens and Heavydirtysoul.

The next ‘reimaging’ is quite possibly my favourite. Tear In My Heart activates dancing Tyler – a sight for all eyes. When speaking about the original song, Tyler explained that he had never felt the need to write a love song. He knew that any love song that he wrote before he met his wife would be futile and fleeting and so avoided investing any emotional energy in that area of music. However, upon happily marrying in 2015, he decided it was time to write Tear In My Heart for his wife Jenna Joseph. Lyrically it’s a strange song that depicts love as a double-edged knife, an decisive ambiguity, as well as the only concrete thing in Tyler’s life.

MUTEMATH’s rendition calls forth a trumpet playing Josh Dunn and jazzed up vibe. The dreamy vocal style of MUTEMATH rings like angels throughout the song and works incredibly well to bring a softer element to the original, somewhat aggressive, composition. It’s as if he’s so relieved to be so uncontrollably in love, but at the same time he’s a little bit mad about it because it’s supplied him with something he could never give himself.

As Tyler sings in Lane Boy ‘My creativity’s only free when I’m playing shows’ and I think that perfectly sums up this live session. If you love live music and you’ve never been to a Twenty One Pilots gig before, I highly recommend you do next time their in town. Just watching this recording made me wish I was in that room soaking up all the spontaneity in the air. It’s very evident the passion these two bands have for their art and it’s such an overwhelming experience to be in their presence and feel that intense drive to express and perform. Twenty One Pilots write songs that are meant to be performed; that’s their approach to music.

MUTEMATH are somewhat similar, but I can’t help but feel they got a little more caught up in the unpredictable nature of live music because they were performing songs which are already designed to evolve. I think that’s something Twenty One Pilots are particularly good at capturing in pre-recorded sound – multiple possibilities.

The drum battle between Twenty One pilots’ Josh Dunn and MUTEMATH’s Darren King is phenomenal and sets the pace for the finale where everyone is on an instrument and everything is racing towards an exhilarating climax. It’s amazing! This brings me back to the two duelling dragons analogy, suddenly both bands are embracing each other’s styles and the music is set alight.

When the credits start rolling a haunting piano interpretation of Heathens trickles between the names. Something about it reminds me of a Final Fantasy soundtrack, or at least some song in some otherworldly videogame. This is so beautiful that I wish it was part of this ‘album’, but unfortunately it only appears in the YouTube video.

The fact that this was called ‘the MUTEMATH sessions’ begs the questions, will there be future collaborations between the two bands? I wouldn’t rule it out. Twenty One Pilots are always trying new things with their music and I think the time for collaborations has come for them. Until a new album is finally released, I think this is enough for fans to live off for the next while, however, Twenty One Pilots have mentioned in recent interviews that they have been working on new music whilst on the road, so that’s always promising.

In the meantime, it’s a a good shout to check out MUTEMATH’s music. they’re been around since 2002, so there’s quite a few albums to get through, and I think if you’re a fan of how weird TOP are, you’ll love the psychedelic disposition of MUTHEMATH.

Aurora gig review – The Art School, Glasgow

“I will be back and I will be lonely on your mountains!” promises Norwegian singer-songwriter, Aurora, at her first ever Glasgow gig and trip to Scotland.

I’ve always thought of Aurora as otherworldly or, at least, ‘Half the World Away’. And, following her show at The Art School on Monday night, I’m almost certain that she’s an alien. I approve. Invade.

 

Bathed in purple light, the crowd waits for abduction. Aurora glides on stage in a white, doily inspired dress, doe-eyed and far from this world. Demanding a halo, the glow turns orange, surrounds her and shivers at her touch. Her presence cues a strange, sonic, binaural beat that booms. It shakes the room and renders our brains subconscious. The air oscillates, charged. Breathing feels electric. A rush of snare drums strips the room of atmosphere. The high tides of vibration subside. Suddenly we’re in a vacuum.

Notes of crystal race from her gut, collide with her lips and atomise. Free-floating and twinkling above our heads, the glitter reforms whichever way it wishes. Tones melt and solidify, merge and separate, clink and chime, until full-formed and sparkling in front of our eyes. When the light is right, images of her childhood home in Norway, deeply knotted in the lattice of glass, peer out, wide-eyed and curious.

Her voice tears a hole in the fabric of space-time, loosens the shackles of gravity, and pulls the universe taut – stillness.

I check but it’s gone. My breath is trapped inside a bell-jar, within a tall tower, upon a stormy mountain 
 or, at least, that’s where I imagine Aurora takes all those breaths away to.

For the most part, the crowd is silent. We sway like blades of grass beneath her feet – just there. Quietly, we watch her perform a collection of songs from her debut album, ‘All My Demons Greeting Me As A Friend’, and a few older singles like ‘Under Stars’ and ‘Nature Boy’. We all know that to sing along would be to dilute her spell.

Everything changes when she pauses her set to talk to the crowd, though. Suddenly, everyone is vocal and interactive, laughing with her as her estranged sense of social norms rears its beautiful head. It’s here that Aurora points out, “you’re all very good at knowing when to be quiet and when to be ‘loudy’” 
 her English not entirely fluent yet.

At one point, she actually pauses the show to tie her shoelaces, undone by too much interpretive dance. This clip captures that moment and is a great example of her delightful nature. Her mispronunciation of lace as ‘lice’ gets everyone laughing, too.

Following this, Aurora gives us a preview of her new song, Animal Soul, which she says will be on her next album. It is beautiful. Just before getting into the song, though, Aurora comically forgets the lyrics but gracefully recovers. To protect her music, the clip ends before she starts singing, but there’s a sneak preview of the melody.

After what I can only describe as a two-hour meditation, and an ethereal encore of ‘Through The Eyes of A Child’, Aurora and her wonderful band leave the stage. Watching her take the time to collect gifts and artwork from fans as she exits, highlights to me just how fresh to the scene and innately humble she is. It’s refreshing.

I leave the venue feeling oddly zen, but incredibly warm. So, my friend and I wait in the cool autumn breeze to catch a quick breath of fresh air before heading hom. That’s when we notice a few fans congregating by a side-door. Listening, it sounds like hopes are high of, at least, catching a glimpse of Aurora. With nowhere else to be, we decide to join the group.

An hour and a half passes and the plummeting temperature is starting to feel a little less comforting. Her roadies have come and gone; her tour bus is packed; her band mates are leaving. Surely she’s still in there. If not, surely someone would kindly tell us to go home for some heat.

Just as our hopes are at their highest, the door that we’re eagerly huddling around slams shut.

Exchanging looks of exhaustion and laughing at our hypothermic situation, my friend and I think of leaving. I’m a little disappointed but in agreement that it’s getting late and we should go. However, we do decide to stay one more minute longer 
 just in case.

Now, I’m glad we did.

Maybe it’s the lack of zany purple lighting, or the fact she arrives unaccompanied by her orchestra of humming alien space-crafts, but neither of us notice a tiny, bundled-up Aurora Aksnes standing timidly under a lone streetlamp. In fact, someone else from the group of fans has to point her out. I look over my shoulder and, suddenly, there she is, just a few feet away. I can only assume that she came from an unknown side-side door, but most probably she was beamed in.

In disbelief, we walk over to meet her. She notices that I’m shaking with the cold and takes my hands to heat them up. I am so struck by her friendliness. She very carefully scribes her signature on our tickets, poses with us for a few pictures, and then sticks around for a five-minute chat. There is no rush whatsoever.

I always imagined meeting a celebrity would be nerve-wracking, but Aurora makes us feel like we’ve known her all our lives. She’s so down to Earth and happy to talk with us, but I notice there’s a strong preservation of that aura of oddness. She feels present yet distant, untouchable even though she’s holding my hands. I think she’s a little stuck in her own head and, as I can personally relate to that, I assume it’s happily so. I get the feeling she’s secretly very shy and more at peace with being alone, regardless of her fantastic repartee.

In a moment of awkward silence, as this group of strangers tries to think of something to say to this other, more important, stranger, Aurora decides to be frank.

“I have to tell you all something inappropriate. We have to shower in the 
 eh 
 the venues because we can’t on our tour bus. So, they were all telling me ‘Aurora, there are people outside waiting for you!’ and was like” – comically flailing her arms about, she actions pulling a jumper over her head and hoisting her skirt up – “and now, my hair is still wet 
 you know, I didn’t have time, and … I’m not wearing any underwear. I couldn’t find it!”

Her awkwardness and honesty is charming. We all laugh with her, dumbfounded by this incredible mix of innocence and peculiarity. It’s weird being made to feel like we’re her main priority and not the other way around. The fact she rushed out of a shower to meet us is not only a funny anecdote, but it makes us feel valued as fans. And, that’s something I think a lot of other fan-bases don’t have the luxury of.

As time is getting on and our hands are going numb, Aurora goes to take her leave – mostly for our frozen sakes. However, caught up in a conversation with one last eager fan, handing her a gift-bag, I think she might not notice us leaving. So, purely out of politeness, I call back to her my goodbyes.

Much to my surprise, she hears me and makes a point of acknowledging it. Up on her toes, with her arm so far reaching that she could be trying to steal a star for all I know, she calls back to me. Her grin is so huge at the sound of my goodbye that it’s hard not to feel like I’ve just made a friend. There’s this sense that she’s the kind of artist, person even, who hopes to see everyone she meets in life again and for a little bit longer next time.

Utterly awe-inspired, my first reaction is to, of course, social everything. Just to prove this all did actually happen, here’s me and my friend with the lovely, gentle, and a little bit odd Aurora Aksnes.

There’s no definite date in place for her new album release, but she did inform us that it’s in the works. And, in her facebook-live Q&A the next day, she told fans that there are fifteen new songs on the track list, so far. Soon would be fantastic, but if I can wait outside for nearly 2 hours in the blustering cold to meet Aurora, I’m sure I can handle the few months until her next album.