Twenty One Pilots: Trench Album Review
Since the unexpected success of 2015’s Blurryface, Twenty One Pilots went from 200 people venues to sold-out arenas. Touring took the band well into the summer of 2017, after which they took a much-needed break to adjust to their newfound success before working on their fifth studio album, Trench. Long-time fans will be pleased to know that despite the fame, the maturity of the band has come at no cost to creativity or impact. This newest release contains many of the elements that first made fans fall in love with the duo while also presenting something new for people unfamiliar with the group. One 2018’s most widely anticipated rock albums, Trench celebrates the mystifying genre-blending and dark, anxiety-riddled conceptualism that has defined Twenty One Pilots over their almost decade-long existence. Arguably, it’s more eccentric than its predecessor, but even more sure-footed in its quest of a cohesive concept, which again centers on lead singer/songwriter Tyler Joseph’s inner-turmoil and is complemented by Josh Dun’s percussions.
If people were struggling to pin down Twenty One Pilots’ sound, their opening track did little to clear up the confusion. The first song on the album “Jumpsuit” is a bold and dark track that showcases the group’s experimentation with heavy rock influences and a gloomier production than what is seen in past work. It’s an interesting choice as a lead single because it doesn’t really have any mainstream appeal at all. The guitar riffs are strong and along with the crashing drums, it’s a very bold sound choice. The verses are delicately delivered, but once the chorus starts the volume is turned up and the heavier influences are more apparent. They even throw in a screaming vocal delivery during the final chorus which sort of smacks you in the face. Lyrically this song follows the trajectory of a fictional city called Dema and the escape efforts of a character called Clancy (a result of the duo’s world-building). It’s very visual for those familiar with the fantasy world-and will pull the listener into the adrenaline-crazed world that the track exists in. It’s not your typical title-track, and unfortunately, that means heavy radio play is unlikely, but the arrangement is stunning even if a bit bizarre.
After the emotional roller coaster “Jumpsuit” ends, it’s on to Dun’s vivacious drumming on “Levitate,” a hypnotic and almost cathartic-“Morph”, and an electronic falsetto-fueled “My Blood.” The following track, “Chlorine”, opens with a sound bite that gets distorted before a head-nodding beat drop with melodic high notes, and is succeeded by a vulnerable love-song “Smithereens” in which Joseph declares his willingness to sacrifice for love. “Neon Gravestones” is a slow burner that criticizes the romanticization of celebrity suicide and probably will garner the most controversy. Next up, there’s the nostalgic ‘80s-sounding “The Hype”, the haunting island vibe hip hop mashup “Nico and the Niners,” the simmering reggae-esque “Cut My Lip”, and the layered, constantly shifting “Bandito.” The album peaks with “Pet Cheetah,” a fast-paced track with energetic highs and lows, namedrops Jason Statham as it melds techno, rap and rock, along with splashes of reggae and house. The mood is brought back down with a refreshingly optimistic old-school track like “Legend” that has a tinge of the bittersweetness experienced when thinking of a lost loved one.
Trench is a more low-key album than those previously produced, and Joseph and Dun show maturity in not overworking songs. The final track, “Leave the City,” is a haunting piano-lead song with soft drumming and ghostly, low peaking yet stellar vocals. The use of vocal distortion is much more refined and purposeful than it felt on Blurryface. Overt lyrics that connect the songs — “Jumpsuit” and “Neon” — and the album to a larger fantasy narrative that has been woven into several albums and onto websites attest to the purposefulness of the album’s conception. The cryptic, almost underground explanation of the concept that fueled their last album gives Trench a sense of novelty. Its tracks are like pieces to a large puzzle that the duo has revealed in small doses. The drawbacks to this approach are the fact that new listeners aren’t able to appreciate the cleverness of the lyrics and make connections with the references. So, a lot of the genius craftsmanship gets lost in great beats and touching lyrics. The album also serves as a collection of all-too-similar sounds, with many sharing the same overall beat and lyrical rhythms. Which may be a plus for longtime fans, but falls flat for listeners who are on the fence.
A few things are certain, the production is smoother, the sound is sharper, and the choruses arrive well placed in each and every track. Even though the majority of the songs follow the classic Twenty One Pilots style, they have managed to vary it to a degree that songs like “Jumpsuit” stand out. Trench is obviously targeted toward fans already familiar with the world-building that the duo established to facilitate their storytelling but can still be enjoyable for first-time listeners who appreciate it’s relatability. Many people, old fans and new fans alike, are anticipating that the next installment fills in more of the blanks that their fantasy world has created.
Kayla Simmons is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism and psychology. To contact her, email at email@example.com.