twenty one pilots have a near-flawless discography that soundtracks their journey from scrappy dreamers from Columbus, Ohio to becoming the biggest cult band in the world to where they are today. That being one of the biggest, most daring and most influential rock bands around.
From the release of their self-titled debut in 2009 to 2021’s Scaled And Icy, twenty one pilots have never worried about fitting into a scene. Their music covers everything from alt-rock and emo rap to heartbreaking indie, joyful ‘80s pop and pulsating EDM.
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Despite their eclectic range of influences, though, twenty one pilots have never sounded like a band struggling for identity. Their records are time capsules of what Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun were going through at the time of writing. Meanwhile, their dramatic, heartfelt songs of fear, anxiety and pain have offered comfort and empowerment for over a decade now.
Now, we like a challenge, so we’ve decided to rank all six of twenty one pilots’ studio albums, from great to greater. Couple of rules before we dive in: Live records don’t count (sorry, Scaled And Icy: Livestream Version), and even if TOPxMM bangs, it’s just an EP, so it and Three Songs won’t be included, either.
6. Regional At Best (2011)
Described by Joseph as a “glorified mixtape,” twenty one pilots were basically a solo project at the time of creating their second record, as the band shifted from a three-piece to a duo.
With all of its better moments re-recorded for Vessel, the self-released Regional At Best may have provided the blueprint for what twenty one pilots would become. There’s a reason some of the tracks have been pretty much removed from the internet entirely, however. Yes, the mystery means physical copies of the record now sell for a few hundred dollars, but Regional At Best is perhaps the only twenty one pilots album that can be described as a work in progress.
5. Twenty One Pilots (2009)
The ambitious debut album. Twenty One Pilots opens with “Implicit Demand For Proof,” a jaunty piano-driven track with all the pomp and self-confidence of early Panic! At The Disco. The song sets the scene perfectly for the genre-hopping that’s about to follow.
Over the course of the record, twenty one pilots pull from Coldplay and AWOLNATION as they dabble in hip-hop and twee indie. Their mission to ignore genre boundaries at every opportunity, established from the word go.
However, the 14 tracks clock in at just over an hour. The record contains a hunk of powerful moments, with “Addict With A Pen,” “Taxi Cab,” “The Pantaloon” and “Isle Of Flightless Birds” all showing off Joseph’s already impressive ability to crack a heart with a well-written line of poetry. Still, there are moments when Twenty One Pilots starts to drag. Listening back now, the record really misses the urgency and energy Dun brought to the band in 2011, following the departures of Nick Thomas and Chris Salih. There are flashes of brilliance, but it’s yet to be harnessed.
4. Blurryface (2015)
No, we haven’t lost our minds. twenty one pilots’ fourth record became a slow-burning global phenomenon, selling millions of copies and earning the boys a Grammy Award (“Stressed Out” – Best Pop Duo/Group Performance). Looking back now, it’s clear they were trapped between two worlds, trying to make sense of what twenty one pilots were becoming.
Following their Fueled By Ramen debut Vessel in 2013 and the success of single “Car Radio,” twenty one pilots couldn’t escape the fact that their music was connecting to a worldwide audience, but they were still very much an underground concern. Blurryface sees them walk the line between swaggering self-assurance and raging self-doubt.
That journey is reflected in the record’s narrative. It sees the character of Blurryface personifying their fears about mental health, change and acceptance over a glorious hodgepodge of different styles. It was that all-too-relatable struggle that helped the record resonate with so many. Flickering between nostalgia and what was to come next, Blurryface is missing the playful wonder found on other records.
3. Scaled And Icy (2021)
twenty one pilots’ most daring record, Scaled And Icy saw the band follow two tightly wound concept records about troublesome mental health with a burst of summertime joy. There are rumors that the stylistic departure is part of the band’s ongoing narrative, with the pair forced to make a more commercial record by the shady organization of DEMA. Anyone accusing them of selling out should probably take a listen to Vessel first (more on that later). The band have always used jaunty synths and tried to turn anguish into something positive.
From the feel-good opening track (“Good Day”) and the disco-drive of “Shy Away” to the political arena rock of “Never Take It” and “Formidable”’s sugary-sweet romance, Scaled And Icy is the band at their most fearless.
2. Vessel (2013)
twenty one pilots’ third record was the first that really showed off the magic lineup of Joseph and Dun as the pair laid their stadium-sized ambitions to tape. Full of jaunty, emo bangers, it’s perhaps the most direct twenty one pilots album, as the band set about writing a record to soundtrack the most impactful live show they could imagine.
Released almost a decade ago, deliberately larger-than-life tracks such as “Trees” and “Holding On To You” still provide jaw-dropping moments at their live shows. Meanwhile, uptempo synth-led songs such as “Guns For Hands” and “Ode To Sleep” sound as relevant today as they did back then. Elsewhere, the introspective poetry of “Car Radio” gave the band their first taste of success, proving there was as much demand for emotion as there was for confetti-strewn euphoria. Vessel was the first time we really saw twenty one pilots as the brilliant, interesting, surprising band we know and love today.
1. Trench (2018)
Following up the colossal success of a record like Blurryface was no easy feat. Rather than try to appeal to their much-expanded fanbase or repeat the successes of what had come before, twenty one pilots refocused their efforts on speaking to their die-hard fans, the Clique.
The result was a sprawling concept record that dwarfed everything the band had done before (turns out the character of Blurryface was just one of nine bishops that controlled the land of DEMA) and is still throwing up the occasional surprise.
Starting from the one-two sucker punch of “Jumpsuit’ and “Levitate,” it was clear from the off that this was a band who felt they had absolutely nothing to prove to anyone. Lyrically, the record explored the media’s portrayal of mental health (“Neon Gravestones”) and the power of creativity (“Chlorine”) while shrugging off feelings of being trapped or boxed in. However, beyond the weighty subject matter, it also found time to show off the pair’s beaming personalities (the ferocious “Pet Cheetah”) and their snarling attitude (“Morph”).
And the whole thing ends with “Leave The City.” An ode to the support and encouragement the fans have given twenty one pilots over the years, both personally and professional, it’s a celebration of the community the band have built. The final words spoken on their fifth album sum up twenty one pilots: “Though I’m far from home, in Trench I’m not alone/These faces facing me, they know what I mean.”