I could have sworn that Twenty One Pilots released a new album this year already? Am I wrong? I’m pretty sure they did because I remember some kids on twitter getting really excited when it ‘dropped’ a couple days early (something truly magical in the internet age where albums leak weeks ahead of release, I’m guessing?) Nevertheless, they’re back with Mediocre At Best. A collection of remixes, mash-ups, live tracks, and previously kinda-sorta-unreleased material, exclusively on a bandcamp page credited to a Jon Gibson.
So am I listening to an album by Twenty One Pilots or Jon Gibson? Do remix albums count as real albums? Does any critique I give on this album go to Gibson or to Twenty One Pilots? Such questions continue to burn deep within my psyche, yet I find no legitimate answers, yielding to one more question. The most important of all: Why am I listening to this?
If you are not familiar with Twenty One Pilots, the best way I can describe their sound is to imagine if you combine Nate Ruess’s gosh-shucks swagger with the superficial dance rock antics of recent Fall Out Boy along with the occasional nasally rap of Eminem as an emo seventh grader who thinks the world is against him because Degrassi was canceled. They broke into the mainstream sometime last year with their exclusive brand of alternative rock meets hip-hop meets poetry, and were eventually signed to the Fueled By Ramen record label. With that commercial boost, they reached an even bigger audience of eighth graders and twenty somethings who insist cosplay isn’t just ‘dressing up’ as their favorite comic/videogame/anime character but an extension of one’s soul.
The kids who have never heard a Beatles record. The adults who are up to their ears in student loans yet spend every single dime of their paycheck on beer and tattoos of My Little Pony characters. You know the kind. Don’t get me wrong, art is subjective and what one considers ‘good music’ has no bearing on how they should be judged as human beings. We all enjoy things others may think are lame or stupid. For instance, I think Eric Clapton is an overrated guitarist and The Big Green is a good Disney movie, so I’m well versed in accountability. Clapton influenced millions of guitarists and Disney 90s sports movies are about as thought provoking as Cheetos are nutritional. I full on respect everyone’s personal taste. But it’s obvious who this music is marketed to: People who are too young to appreciate legitimate art regardless if they don’t understand it, or people who refuse to become functioning adults and have accepted the mediocrity of eating Taco Bell for dinner for the rest of their lives.
Being that I’m not sure what a ‘mash-up’ is exactly, and to fully appreciate what ‘remixes’ bring to the table, I listened to each of these songs in their original forms found on previous releases from the band. There is plenty of bells and whistles added to this collection, making it a justifiable release. Everything from alternate instrumentation to completely different structures in the compositions. From a production standpoint, nothing sounds like it was thrown together for a quick cash in, so kudos to this Jon Gibson guy for that. He clearly knows his way around a studio and how to craft a competent mix, but sadly, it’s like putting a dog turd on fine China with winter black truffles. Yeah it’s on an expensive plate with a luxurious side, but the main component of the dish came from the bowels of a dog and you will probably die if you eat it. I can’t help but feel sorry for anyone who actually thinks Twenty One Pilots are a decent band. Just to see if I’m alone in my musings, I Googled “Twenty One Pilots suck” and to my surprise, there wasn’t many pages found. Either they’re so bad people aren’t even bothering to discredit their popularity, or the state of mainstream music is in far worse shape than I thought.
The primary songwriter in this band claims his music is “poetry” and the reason why he raps is because he is running out of time and space to fit all the words in. How about this, get to the point. There is nothing wrong with beating around the bush for the sake of being ‘artistic’ but if you want to make a song about being lonely or whatever this douche is whimpering about, why would it be based around someone stealing his car stereo? I’m gonna go as far as saying that the primary group of listeners who find this sort of drivel entertaining, are probably not even old enough to own a car and the song was likely related to a kid who lost his or her radio privileges in the family sedan due to the fact the last thing they chose to listen to on the way to cheer practice was probably Drake.
Another thing that is strange about this release is the live tracks. Isn’t this a remix album? Is it even possible to remix a live recording? I also question the authenticity of these alleged ‘live’ recordings. I saw Twenty One Pilots in concert last year, and though I felt like I had a good time even though I had never heard of them until twenty minutes before the show, I think it was more enjoyable because I was accompanying a mildly attractive lady, and the tickets were free. Had I paid any of my hard earned money on such a show I’d never forgive myself. The band I saw were nowhere near as tight or well rehearsed as whats featured on these live tracks. Then again, I guess any band who’d willingly release such abominations as their Blurryface album, wouldn’t be above tacking a live audience sound loop on a pre-existing track and passing it off as a ‘live recording’. Should I really be questioning the authenticity of a band on the Fueled By Ramen label anyway? They’re responsible for releasing some of the worst music of the entire decade, driven by blind nostalgia of the previous decade’s pop emo teenagers. Correlating nostalgia with Panic At The Disco is a very depressing thought.
It’s not fair to judge a person by their taste in music (although it’s hilariously easy) but can the same be said about judging a band for their fan base? In part, no. I mean Phish has some pretty annoying fans, same goes for The Grateful Dead but that doesn’t mean I should never delve into their respective catalogs of music, maybe there is something there I like? But then look at other atrocities such as Insane Clown Posse, the line between artist and fan is so blurred that it doesn’t even make a difference. At least ICP are self-aware and subtly poke fun at their fan base as well as themselves. Twenty One Pilots, on the other hand, play up their fan base and have somehow convinced the general public their songs are deep and thought-provoking. If you are intelligent enough to understand that a pop song is capable of articulating feelings of loss, hope, and redemption, then you should be intelligent enough to know that this band (and record label) is churning out paint-by-numbers alternative pop for kids who aren’t old enough to understand what loss, hope, and redemption really is.
All rants aside, Mediocre At Best isn’t, in fact, mediocre at best, it’s barely listenable at best, and that’s being generous. The album is up for download on Jon Gibson’s bandcamp page with a “pay what you want” feature, but try as I might, I can’t figure out where the “Pay Me For Listening” feature is. Twenty One Pilots is very much this generation’s Limp Bizkit and no matter how many angry tweens or never-grow-up twenty-somethings, come down my street to burn my house down for saying it, five years down the road they are going to be pretty embarrassed with themselves for defending such a terrible band.
Just remember kids, don’t beat yourselves up too bad, Insane Clown Posse has an album that’s certified gold by the RIAA. That’s a lot of albums that no one admits to buying. We all buy bad music when we don’t know any better, (myself included) but we get up and make better musical choices to become better people. It’s what growing up is all about. So if you are one of the sad, inept individuals who believe Twenty One Pilots are anything but puppets of a soulless music industry meant to play upon your nostalgic adolescence memories of youth, Mediocre At Best may be the record of the year for you, from the band of the decade.
But if you are one of the individuals that no matter how much Twenty One Pilots tell you their music is deep, soul-searching, and thought provoking art, you must understand that their music is a collection of brainless pillow talk from overprivileged white kid rap. Even if this is mediocre at best, you can probably find better.
Aaron (or Coop) is a freelance writer, multi-instrumentalist and overall lover of all things music. As an advocate for indie record labels and artists, he is passionate about local scenes and do-it-yourself artistry. If it’s good, it’s good. If it’s bad, he’s not afraid to explain why.