It’s possible that I spent more time trying to figure out how to actually represent the band’s name throughout this writeup than I actually spent thinking about it. I’m going with Twenty One Pilots (and not message board favorite “twenty one pilots”, nor Discogs’ preferred “Twenty | One | Pilots”, nor the Wikipedia-suggested alternate “TWENTY ØNE PILØTS” because GØØD LØRD), if only because a) that’s what Wikipedia says, and b) it looks most like the English language I am familiar with.
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The first time I heard Twenty One Pilots, it was via the almost-too-clever “Tear In My Heart”, a fantastic little lark of a song that goes from irreverent piano balladry to technicolor EDM piss-take within a mere three-and-change minutes. Since then, radio has been content to (over)play song after song of these guys’ genial pop music, songs that push universal emotional themes like stress (“Stressed Out”) and alienation (Suicide Squad cut “Heathens”) while staying at arm’s length. Chances are you’ve heard a handful of songs by these guys and you don’t feel like you know a darn thing about them.
Part of this is by design – there’s a reason these guys wear ski masks so often. Emotional availability is hard. Showing your “real face” to someone is one of the most vulnerable things you can do. One of the reasons they have such a devout fanbase is that those fans know this, they see this, they see the symbolism and relate to it, and then those masks come off.
Double Sided is Twenty One Pilots’ extra special Record Store Day 2016 release, and according to this chart, it was the highest-selling of the singles released on Record Store Day. This makes sense; it was around this past April that we hit peak Twenty One Pilots on pop radio. Double Sided is a 7″ 45 that features a six-headed live medley that the band is apparently calling “A Few Older Ones” on the A-side and a live version of Blurryface deep cut “Doubt” on the B-side. What makes this a true treat for the fans who can get their hands on it is that both sides offer moments where the masks are off. These are the moments when Twenty One Pilots are at their most vulnerable, and for those fans lucky enough to have seen them in concert, these are songs that probably made some of the most lasting impressions.
“A Few Older Ones” consists of songs from every Twenty One Pilots album before Blurryface, and it spends a lot of time with the best lines of those songs where they remove the mask. Aside from opening with the headfake of “Pantaloon” — which, let’s face it, they threw that one in there because it’s catchy and cute — they craft a new story of expectations, insecurity, and the power of shared experience out of the words of “Semi-Automatic”, “Forest”, “Screen”, “Ode to Sleep”, and a whole bunch of “Addict With a Pen”.
Aside from the inventiveness of the medley, the excitement from the crowd is palpable with the onset of each individual song. Some get more play in the sing-along department than others, but it’s clear that Twenty One Pilots are pushing all kinds of emotional buttons by integrating these six different stories into one shockingly cohesive whole. It seems to end quickly for a five-and-a-half minute song, and that’s to its credit.
The B-Side is another side of the same coin. “Doubt” is a tale of…well, exactly what you’d think it would be about, with a healthy dollop of unhealthy codependence mixed in. It’s fine, and easy to sing along to, and there’s a little bit of audience participation here in the form of some call-and-response vocals.
If you want to get right down to it, there’s nothing strictly new on Double Sided, but it’s a treat nonetheless. I’ll admit, I bought Double Sided on Record Store Day because I dragged my kids with me to the record store to wait in line and I wanted to give them something to listen to. What I ended up with is something that’s actually got me listening to old (read: 2009) Twenty One Pilots albums. Here’s to pleasant surprises.