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 ‚Äď and that’s including most¬†music videos ‚Äď 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‚Äôs 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 ‚Äď 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 ‚Ästa 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 ‚Äď 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.

‘The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger’ ‚Äď Review

<NO SPOILERS>

Initially published in 1982,¬†The Gunslinger is the first of a seven-part Steven King series called ‚ÄėThe Dark Tower series‚Äô. The opening line is memorable:

“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.”

As readers, we tail this gunslinger ‚ÄstRoland Deschain, the last in a long line of his kind.¬†Our protagonist appears to resemble a cowboy and the story begins with a very Western feel; however, it‚Äôs immediately clear that there exists an eerie edge to this world. Roland chases campfire remnants across a seemingly vacant desert/wasteland, after the man in black. This is mostly in vain, but captivated by the rolling horizon and the secrets it has to be hiding, he persists. Ultimately, the gunslinger is¬†in pursuit of the curious Dark Tower, but for reasons we‚Äôre never entirely educated in. And, it‚Äôs clear that the man in black knows something of this ambiguous ‚ÄėTower‚Äô, thus, Roland chases him for answers.

As the story progresses, it becomes increasingly evident that this is no Western and the gunslinger is no cowboy. This novel, just like the desert, is speckled with a variety of unexpected oddities. Roland, occasionally, encounters a mysterious hut or an unnerving settlement and a variety of morally challenging dwellers. He often suspects that these are just fabrications of the man in black’s sorcery; regardless, he indulges.

However, even with all these early-on discoveries, it was a surprisingly slow read in the beginning. I’d say upon the introduction of Jake and the possibility of a multiverse, most readers will become fully invested in the journey. By the time they reach the mountains, it is impossible to put the book down. When the gunslinger finally catches up with the man in black, you will feel an acceleration of pace.

In terms of character, Jake, in particular, felt cleverly devised to tug on not only the heartstrings of readers but, also, on those of the deadpan gunslinger. He was the only character I cared for and became emotionally invested in, which mirrors Roland’s perception of events. There were other characters in the novel worthy of pity, but if Roland wasn’t feeling it then neither were you. This, I thought, was smart and skilfully executed.

Roland as a character is not fully developed in this novel, but that appears to be what the series intends to delve into. In The Gunslinger, we gain insight into his background and his lineage, but he appears only as a man with a one-track mind. Therefore, mostly, we just recognise his disconnect and accompanying drive. In fact, the way King gradually reveals parts of Roland to the reader emphasises Roland’s own lack of introspection. He’s a character that appears to bury most of his emotions, denying himself of nostalgia and basic reflection; in other words, he’s incredibly future and goal orientated. His mannerisms are noted to be that which make him an outstanding gunslinger, for not many can rationalise and accept their own brutality as well as he does.

The final chapter, part ‘5’ especially, really excited me. It was then that a true desire to read the second book was ignited. Here, the man in black has an evidently contrasting voice and outlook on life to that of Roland. His knowledge is existential in nature and transcends the boundaries within which this first novel is written. Doors are opened to big incomprehensible worlds, which the following books in the series seem set to explore. We are left with the feeling of great potential and we truly face oblivion with Roland ‚Ästthere is no way to predict what is coming next.

The only real criticism that I will give this book is that which I‚Äôve seen other readers voice. Initially, I, like many,¬†was not completely drawn in by the vague plot, rather by the strangeness of setting. However, once a few chapters in ‚Äď when the plot fully formed ‚Äď I was hooked. In the beginning, the book is quite hard to follow as King often throws in bits of unexplained lore. I reckon the next books expand upon most of this, but it was a little confusing in parts. Also, some might find the way the book jumps about from the past to the present disorientating, as Roland often recalls or retells the stories of his previous ventures. Personally, though,¬†I was able to keep up with this.

Upon researching other readers’ opinions, this first novel is, apparently, the least liked of the series. I can understand why; it isn’t a flawless read. For some, it may also be unnerving in parts, but it is a Stephen King novel, after all. This personally appealed to me but it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, so be warned. I must state, however, that it’s not at all a horror. In fact, in his foreword, King acknowledges influences such as The Lord of the Rings and¬†Sergio Leone’s spaghetti Western trilogy. He deems this series his magnum opus¬†and intended for it to be very different and much larger than anything else he had previously written. It definitely leans toward the fantasy and sci-fi genres much more than it does horror.

To end on a high, I have to rave about King’s staggering wordsmithery. His way with words kept me utterly enchanted. The images he painted in my mind were some of the clearest a book has ever shown me ‚Äď particularly the more gruesome ones. I genuinely put the book down and applauded at one point. I’d say this was one of the main reasons that I kept reading. I couldn’t get enough of how each sentence created not just a picture, but a sensation that was often wrapped in emotion. It was awe-inspiring.

Characters, phrases, machines, magic, demons and philosophies that should feel out of place, instead¬†create an aesthetically pleasing patchwork ‚Äď a quilt comprised of different patterned slices of space-time fabric. King‚Äôs evocative imagery stitches each frame with threads of feeling; his words are very nearly interactive textures on the page. These peculiarities matched with great technical writing make for an engaging story.

Overall, a quotable, memorable, original, thought-provoking and influential read.

 

dog eared 4
I give this novel 4 dog-ears out of 5

Thank you, Mr. King.