Sofia Almeida | email@example.com | November 13, 2018
After almost a year of hiatus, Grammy-winning band Twenty One Pilots is back this month with a new album, Trench. Like past albums, Trench is based on a fictional concept created by lead singer Tyler Joseph. This imaginary world “Trench” is seen throughout the album and is used to explore deeper questions, bringing attention to prevalent issues affecting young adults today.
The album includes the obscure lyrics and the distinctive rap/reggae sound that fans have grown to love, and, as some reviewers have pointed out, also demonstrates a new level of refinery and cohesion. However, there are some aspects of this album that seem to sacrifice some of the band’s most signature qualities in favor of a more refined sound.
Twenty One Pilots first made a name for themselves with the album Blurryface which came out in 2015. Blurryface was based on a fictional villain that represented the societal pressures and mental health issues affecting young people, and also criticized the music industry. Trench, which is based on a place rather than on a character, continues to build on that narrative.
There are many common themes and characters within the fictional world that appear throughout Trench. In the song “Nico and the Niners”, Joseph describes a city enclosed by walls called Dema as well as an uprising caused by people wanting to escape it: “When bishops come together they will know that, Dema don’t control us”.
Trench is supposedly a place between Dema and an unknown final destination and is depicted in songs like “Bandito” where Joseph sings: “This is the sound we make, when in between two places.” In an interview with Beats 1 Radio, Joseph explained that the concept of Trench parallels his feelings about his position in real life saying, “In this narrative I knew that I needed to leave somewhere and start this journey and this point in between two places that a lot of us find ourselves in”.
This place is illustrated in the album with Joseph’s uncharacteristically high – or falsetto – singing and ambient synthesizers that create a dream-like feel. This is heard in songs such as “Smithereens” and “Morph”. Similar to past records, ukulele is incorporated throughout the album and is used to create a reggae-type sound in songs like “The Hype” and “Nico and the Niners”. The album also features the song “Levitate”, the band’s first exclusively rap song.
There are some songs on the record that extend beyond the Trench narrative and directly address events in the real world, including Joseph’s personal life. An example of this is the song “Neon Gravestones”, in which Joseph portrays his controversial take on the topic of suicide. In the song, he raps about his belief that our society has the tendency to glorify people who commit suicide, which only magnifies the problem. He raps, “In my opinion our culture can treat a loss like it’s a win/Further engraving an earlier grave is an optional way, no.” He also suggests that we should instead glorify getting old and living a full life. “Find your grandparents or someone of age/Pay some respects for the path that they paved.”
Twenty One Pilots has always drawn influence from several different genres including pop, reggae, rap, screamo, and electronic music, jumping between genres within an album or even a single song. Trench, however, seems to be more heavily influenced by pop and electronic music than any of their previous albums. Some may see this as the band’s evolution toward a more sophisticated sound, but it is also hard to deny that the music has lost some of its unique flare and strange, sometimes chaotic, sound that fans enjoyed in the days of previous albums Vessel and Blurryface. Although the lyrical content has not changed much, this album seems to stray towards a more conventional music style.
There are some songs on the album like “The Hype” and “Chlorine” that would be hard to distinguish from any other song on the radio. This is uncharacteristic for the band, considering their previous music was so unconventional it earned its own genre name: “ukulele screamo”. That isn’t to say that the album doesn’t contain any songs that are unique and remain true to the band’s style. The rap and contradiction of the verse and chorus in “Pet Cheetah” make it about as strange as it is catchy, and the poetic rap verses in “Morph” are reminiscent of Blurryface era songs like “The Judge”.
Trench is a more evolved step from previous albums Vessel and Blurryface and opens new doors for where Twenty One Pilots could take their music in the future.