twenty one pilots music always seems to be in contention with something. Their self-titled 2009 debut saw them meet their uncertainties and fears head on before 2013’s breakthrough Vessel dug even deeper, facing depression and other painful memories. Their last effort, 2015’s Blurryface, saw them move more into the conceptual market, battling the impersonation of depression and trying to separate themselves from him. Their latest effort is an extension of that fight, but instead of a battle to separate, it’s more of a battle to escape. twenty one pilots battle their minds in Trench, one of their most personal and dynamic efforts yet.
Trench is a twenty one pilots record through and through, despite its many expansions of its sound. Opening track and lead single ‘Jumpsuit‘ introduces the record with something you don’t find often in a twenty one pilots song: a crunchy guitar riff. As the song rolls with huge dynamics, the bridge falls apart into this heavenly, quiet part as Tyler Joseph assures that even as he runs, he will not leave anyone behind. Songs like ‘The Hype‘ have more qualities of a classic twenty one pilots anthem, incorporating a little bit of everything in the album, while ‘Cut My Lip‘ has its roots in both some of the band’s original sound as well as a more Tame Impala sort of indie vibe.
The most remarkable thing about twenty one pilots with every album is their willingness to tell a story while adopting a new sound. ‘Morph‘ has R&B vibes with 80’s intimacy and beautiful vocals by Joseph and great verses as he sings about losing sight of who he is and becoming someone you’re not. Trench is about escape Dema, a fictional city that has held them captive for some time. Trench is the world they live in, and Dema is representative of insecurities, fear, and more that haunt the band. Tracks like ‘Nico and The Niners‘ are all about the lore, the reggae-influenced track directly referencing characters involved in this story and the city of Dema, as does the trap-based ‘Levitate.’
While telling a story, the songs on Trench parallel the band’s lives. ‘My Blood‘ is a sweet alternative track where Joseph intimately speaks to someone important to him: “Stay with me, no, you don't need to run / Stay with me, my blood, you don't need to run,“ while ‘Smithereens‘ is a more direct song about love, being for Joseph’s wife as he sings about protecting her. Closing track ‘Leave The City‘ is a calming yet important end to the album, the story concluding with them finally escaping Dema (and thus, their insecurities, fears, etc.), while still letting go of real life problems, as well: “In time, I will leave the city / For now, I will stay alive... Last year I needed change of pace, couldn't take the pace of change... But this year, though I'm far from home, in Trench I'm not alone.” The dramatic ‘Bandito‘ also follows the story closer, the main character - Clancy - accepting his role in the Banditos and acknowledging all the struggles that lie ahead.
twenty one pilots don’t try to hide anything in Trench, though. In fact, this record features some of their most personal material yet. ‘Neon Gravestones‘ is the album’s emotional centerpiece, a beautiful and haunting track against glorifying suicide. Fittingly similar in sound to Linkin Park, Tyler Joseph solemnly chants “They say, ‘How could he go if he's got everything?’ / I'll mourn for a kid, but won't cry for a king / Neon gravestones try to call,” the song’s painful but wonderful build sounding like a spiritual successor to ‘Car Radio‘ as well as an emotional plea to put more focus on mental health. The unique atmosphere and threatening delivery of ‘Pet Cheetah‘ helps Joseph dig into his own thoughts as he sings about watching himself from an outside perspective. ‘Legend‘ is a more upbeat track, where Joseph sings about his grandfather (who passed away earlier this year), sending him off warmly with an emotional goodbye: “You're a legend in my own mind / My middle name / My goodbye.“
twenty one pilots battle their minds in Trench, their new record that digs deep into insecurities, fear, and depression all the while telling a fictional story about escaping a torturous city. twenty one pilots branch out their sound and dig deeper than ever on this record, and its clear to see why they have such a dedicated fanbase from this album alone. Real stories become the foundations for some dark tale, providing a way for people going through similar pain to come to terms with it and face it themselves.
Favorite Tracks: Neon Gravestones, Jumpsuit, Nico and The Niners, My Blood
Least Favorite Track: Chlorine
Rating: 91 / 100
Stream or buy Trench on Apple Music, and follow our 2018 Playlist on Spotify: