Review Summary: twenty one pilots levitate to a higher level of musical maturity
Mainstream radio play. When you think of twenty one pilots nowadays, you mostly think of their blow up; critical fan base, over played radio songs, and even a tinge of a crowd-pleasing musical approach regarding their previous release Blurryface
. This, this is quite different. Instead of following the path of destruction, Tyler and Josh harken back to their musical talents of their past records and compose what may very well be their best overall album made to this date. Trench
takes a mellow, darker tone compared to its predecessors, expanding more into the realms of ambiance, brass instrumentation, and even some dark trip hop influence. Ditching the synth heavy melodies of Blurryface
, on the contrary, is bass heavy, often leaving the bass playing of Tyler Joseph to construct the harmonies of the tracks within. Supporting, and even at times guiding, this attack is Josh Dun’s balanced groove on the drumset, showing his improved mindset of rhythm over speed. Enough with the general overview, let’s dive into this.
Almost automatically noticeable from the beginning track “Jumpsuit”, there is something different about the music. It has a darker tone so to speak. In the past, twenty one pilots has often resorted to depressing themes with a bright undertone. Now, the band seems to be accepting the fact that what they’re making is dismal and allow the music to take its course. Throughout the duration of the album, an almost melancholy ambiance seems ever present across each song, not only providing a fuller effect overall, but providing the listener with an overwhelming sense of an engulfing gloom. As most of the songs are driven forward by bass, Trench
utilizes a deeper, booming melody while still maintaining the supporting harmonies through subtle electronics, piano, and even some horns scattered about. This sound seems overall more fitting for the band in their sound and style, often producing tasty bass lines in songs like “Jumpsuit” and “My Blood”. However, this change in tone doesn’t mean they have completely eradicated past record influences. “Neon Gravestones” and “Bandito” benefit from a predominately piano motivated tonality, similar to that their debut, while “Pet Cheetah” utilizes synth heavy beats and hard-hitting grooves to promote its sound, comparative to Vessels
. Despite this, even the similar musical influences sprinkled throughout the album maintain a rather new accent. This is partially due to the lyrics and enunciation of such from none other than Tyler Joseph.
In the usual twenty one pilots fashion, Tyler shows no hesitation in tackling many severe social issues prevalent in modern day society. In “The Hype,” he discusses the issues with the legitimate term ‘hype’ describing the issues of getting your expectations too high and to not believe ‘the hype.’ Delving deeper into depression, suicide makes an appearance here once again (surprise). Oddly enough, Tyler Joseph utters the phrase “Sipping on straight chlorine
” extremely casually, declaring the beat as a chemical, yet moments later expressing how he is running for his life, almost leaving the listener wondering whether it is simply just an intriguing lyrical composition, or the actual idea of inhaling chemicals plays a role in the thought-process. Subtlety aside, “Neon Gravestones” (the clear-cut highlight of the album, musically and lyrically) tackles the new millennial mindset upon the topic of celebrity suicide. Discussing the possible outcomes of an exponential increase in views to extra conversations, Tyler implements himself into the minds of these artists, saying intensely disheartening lyrics such as “I could out with a bang/They would know my name
” declaring the absolute horrific view our culture has adapted to such themes, almost placing suicide on a pedestal and providing those who kill themselves with an immense amount of glorification. Now of course, the band’s lyrics have generally been the highlight of their albums, yet this time around, the instrumentals really provide some competition for the spotlight.
The most obvious of improvements is actually Josh Dun’s drumming. Since he joined back before the release of Regional At Best
, Josh has been laying down supporting rhythmic beats with some additional groove to his style and some extra speed here and there. Not much too it. However, on Trench
, he ups the ante with much improved groove and rhythm, focusing on providing a creative baseline without forcing speedy fills into the mix, which often detracts from the overall sound. The main beat of “Neon Gravestones” gives the perfect mix of simplicity while incorporating some technical ghost notes that greatly enhance what could be classified as a ‘boring’ beat and taking it to the next step. “Leave the City” further shows off this new-found complexity with its progressive beat, producing off beat ride-ghost note snare coordination, enhancing the absolutely phenomenal instrumental force of the album. Josh Dun’s masterful stick hitting compliments Tyler Joseph’s work with everything in between. Still continuing the prevalent piano progression, songs like “Bandito” provide that common denominator in all of twenty one pilots discography. Experimentation, however, also plays a key role in the album, as Tyler Joseph takes more risk with his bass playing, empowering the bass to take the reins of a song rather than simply just perform quietly in the background. Even further so, he explores the realms of atmospheric electronics in the majority of the songs, providing an essential key in the momentum of the record’s tone. Despite this, some songs use the electronics in a more aggressive approach. “Pet Cheetah”, the album’s most instrumentally chaotic songs takes advantage of the diversity of electronics, composing a borderline full-on trip hop sound, which actually becomes more of a refresher than a hindrance in the album’s progression.
Tying all of these assets together happens to be Tyler Joseph’s vocal performance as a whole. Although Trench
does happen to dive deeper into the darkness of Tyler’s story-telling, many of the vocal techniques used by him in times of darkness are kept at a minimal, such as screaming. Even though it rarely occurs, “Jumpsuit” does gift us fans a taste of the past that we enjoy. As this does take a heavier mellow hip hop influence, Tyler lays down some of his best flows in the band’s history. “Levitate” is just a constant rap field day with some of his most persistent rapping to this day. “Neon Gravestones” and parts of “Pet Cheetah” really show Tyler at his best with phenomenal lyrical articulation as he keeps his flows concise with a hint of creativity to make it his own unique style. Alongside the rapping, he belts out some of his best melodies, hitting both highs and lows effortlessly. “Bandito” and “Legend” emphasize on his moments of falsetto, while “Leave this City” and “Nico and the Niners” really take notice of his lower melodies that follow the coat tails of the underlying bass.
Of course, looking at each individual facet of the album does provide a unique outlook on the general picture; however, the full picture cannot be viewed without the combination of every single thing of the record. The flow of the album is quite impressive, as each song plays off of each other without having to have any correlating effect whatsoever. The instrumentation, lyrics, and atmosphere share a cohesiveness that hasn’t been quite as magnificent as displayed on Trench
. Hate all you want, but what we have here is an album full of numerous highlights and an overall chemistry that just beats out all of their previous albums, even if just by a bit. Whatever presuppositions you may have about this album from their previous albums, leave them at the door and give this a shot, because this is something so much more than what they have shown in the past. “Now that should be celebrated.