#7: “Heathens” by Twenty One Pilots
Enough cannot be said about the duo that has taken the music world by storm over the last few years. twenty one pilots, a 2-person musical juggernaut, has put the alternative in hip hop and the eclectic rock in rap rock. The band, which features multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Tyler Joseph and percussionist Josh Dun, is uniquely successful. I won’t lie and say this brand of rap rock has not been done before, but I will say that twenty one pilots does it better than anyone. The music is dexterous and infectious, a brilliant combination that allows the duo to bend musical barriers with each piece, avoiding trite foundations and instead revolutionizing their genre. That is impressive.
“Heathens,” which was featured on the Suicide Squad soundtrack, finds it way to #7 on our list because of its inventiveness. The song is a quintessential example of Twenty One Pilot’s aptitude for their burgeoning style; I do not hyperbolize when I call Joseph and Dun virtuosos. Some often fall into the trap of avoiding all music that even touches the supposed mainstream, but do not let twenty one pilot’s exponential rise to stardom deter you from this band; face it, sometimes the mainstream recognizes hip tunes.
The song is perhaps best analogized as a construction site. It begins with a melancholy piano riff set behind the double vocal – one Joseph and the other some juxtaposed electronic version of the lyric (alien-like). The drums pick up in the second play of the chorus and with it comes some growing keys, noticeable synth, and the creepy background noise of what seems like a distant frog ribbiting. The vocal continues with a few raps and then the song crescendoes into full synth and the ribbiting, a crunchy guitar, turned up to 11, albeit temporarily. Each part builds onto the song, and by the end there is an elegant, grungy structure.
#6: “I Wanna Prove To You” by The Lemon Twigs
Ok. I am sure that Michael and Brian D’Addario are tired of people telling them that they must have traveled by time machine to the present, taking and transforming the best parts of each decade from the 1960s in their music and style, but I just have to harp on this blatant topic for a moment. Holy Shmoly, The Lemon Twigs, the outlet for these uber-talented phenoms, is a band much like Kurt Vonnegut’s bug stuck in amber – time clearly is relative and can be experienced at one moment in 1966 with Pet Sounds, in another moment in 1979 with Breakfast in America, and in another moment in 2010 with Jukebox the Ghost, and in, well, now with The Lemon Twigs.
Let’s back up for a moment. The Lemon Twigs, as I stated, is the creation of two wunderkind brothers from my hometown of Long Island, NY. Spawned from a musical family, the brothers have been playing music all of their lives and released their official first album Do Hollywood earlier this year. On that album is our #6 song of the year, “I Wanna Prove to You,” a piece that features Danny Ayala and Megan Zeankowski, two musicians who play with the brothers when they are live. Just listen.
Immediately I think Queen, The Left Banke, Jethro Tull, Supertramp, Beach Boys – and then I stop. And you should too. It’s just so tempting, right? Whenever I hear a modern band, especially one made up of such young kids (let’s just say they were born in the heart of Bill Clinton’s presidency), play music tinged with old-school sentiment, I become giddy. However, just stop making comparisons and listen to the song. There is something special about it, is there not. The song is multifaceted and theatrical, featuring several stops and starts that are skillful. There is no simple structure like one finds with most young bands; instead, The Lemon Twigs embraces the complex and takes the listener on a journey of harmony and melody.