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Album Review: twenty one pilots – Trench

Oct 16, 2018


I must admit that I was somewhat skeptical of Trench. The fifth album in the twenty one pilots discography would have to follow up the mega-popular Blurryface, which was the first number one album for the duo of Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun.

The concern wasn’t around whether or not they could outdo the numbers of their most recent project. My concern was in how would the band react to the immense success and pressure of being one of the biggest up-and-coming bands in the world. Would they stick to their craft and build on being a versatile and quirky underdog, or would the boys from Columbus, OH, sanitize their sound for a mainstream audience ala Maroon 5 or Coldplay?

Blurryface was not an amazing indicator of uniqueness for me personally. twenty one pilots stuck to their guns some of the material and there was some enjoyability to glean away from it, especially from rap-rock fusions on “Heavydirtysoul” and “Stressed Out”. But the whitewashed reggae on “Ride” and the 2000’s boy-band cliche presented on “Tear In My Heart” rubbed me the wrong way and twenty one pilots sounded like they were trying to push their genre bending a smidge over the line.

So when I listened to Trench all the way through, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I loved this spectacle.

twenty one pilots came through with 14 tracks of extremely catchy and innovative material. Tyler Joseph’s lyricism is consistently thought-provoking and poetic, but he isn’t afraid to be blunt and get straight to the point either. A lot of the cheesy nostalgic melodrama that Blurryface suffered from is fixed and replaced with more interesting song-writing.

The lyricism is consistently high-quality, but the real show-stealer is the production. Over several listens, there is not one instrumental that I have a major bone to pick. While many of the musical stylings carry over from Blurryface, the drum patterns are more crisp and the instrumentation is larger-than-life throughout and each track is a fresh take on the quintessential twenty one pilots formula and the duo never compromises.

twenty one pilots’ versatility is showcased right away on the tracks “Jumpsuit” and “Levitate”. These two are the opening tracks that transition perfectly between them despite polar opposite instrumentation. “Jumpsuit” is carried on the chorus by a punky and monstrous guitar and bass line, while “Levitate” contains some textbook lo-fi hip hop drumming with a sick flow from Tyler Joseph throughout the two and a half minutes.

“Nico and the Niners” and “Cut My Lip” give some proof that not every reggae-spiked twenty one pilots number is gentrified and horrendous. Both tunes have an incredible amount of groove and sound a lot darker and epic than its previous attempts at the Caribbean sound.

twenty one pilots have not completely reinvented themselves. Instead they have merely tweaked their approach to their usual repertoire and the duo has put in more time on Trench into making every instrumental cinematic and fitting for the topics covered.

Speaking of topics covered, there are many themes and topics which twenty one pilots covers brilliantly throughout the 56-minute experience. Tyler Joseph touches on familial relations, mental health, suicide, and many other prevalent issues regarding society today.

Tyler Joseph included two tracks that deal with his family. The disco-fused “My Blood” has been theorized to be from the standpoint of Joseph’s brother, Zack, who has been mentioned before on twenty one pilots’ past material. Also, “Legend”, the second to last song on the record, is a sentimental tribute to the frontman’s late father.

Given the vulture pictured on the cover, there is also a lot of talk about death or fear of death. Trench’s seventh track, “Neon Gravestones”, delves into the danger of glorifying suicide and Joseph opens up about his own problems with mental health. For a problem that is as difficult as mental health, twenty one pilots handles it with great care and cover it from a perspective that is usually not seen in popular music.  

“Morph” has a plinky and upbeat lead melody which contrasts the first verse, where Joseph contemplates the fear of death. I perceive this track as a summary of Tyler Joseph and his storytelling style: morphing into different people in order to tell his stories from a less direct standpoint.

“Chlorine” might be one of the best tracks I have heard this year, bar none. This earworm covers all of the bases for making a perfect song, from the no frills hook that is memorable on impact to the gorgeous outro that is so watery and beautiful. The title of the song is used as a double entendre, as a majority of the song deals with chlorine as a dangerous chemical that is abused to run away from one’s problems, but at the end it is seen as a positive that can cleanse someone of demons at the ending.

“Nico and the Niners” is one of the most unusually terrific songs I have heard that attack mental health issues. The single is filled with swagger and confidence that is not typical for a track surrounding a usually somber topic. The track conveys a rallying cry for the people of a fictional walled city which many are trying to escape.

This is all part of a narrative that encompasses the listening experience of Trench. There could be an entire article dedicated to the storyline and what it all represents in the grander scheme of the world as a whole. The one sentence explanation is that the protagonist, Clancy, is attempting to escape a walled city by the name of Dema, which is controlled by the bishops, who are the antagonists that represent Tyler’s (and society in general’s) inner demons and struggles.

The concept is addressed in some capacity on tracks, but as a listener, it isn’t crucial to wrap yourself up in the overarching storyline for the music to be enjoyable.

This album is great and deserves a listen multiple times over because there are so many minute details that are caught with each new listen. From the instrumentation to the lyrics to the overarching concept and themes, everything is pretty much spot on. While there are some moments that I didn’t completely care for stylistically, I loved listening to this and Trench has my stamp of approval.

Rating: 9/10

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