Review Summary: The voice of a generation, one that will hopefully fade sooner rather than later.
Things are rather quite weird right now, for the world of Modern Rock- or whatever passes for it. Half a year ago, Twenty Øne Pilots' brand new album, Trench
, came out. As expected, given the absolutely monumental following they gained over the year 2016, from their sold out tours and huge sales of 2015's Blurryface
, and the surprise success of their Suicide Squad soundtrack-exclusive single "Heathens", the hype has been absolutely real. Hot Topic stores now have TØP merch loudly and proudly displayed at the front of their stores, with even a giant window display at some of them. Trench is currently breaking sales records and streaming records alike. Additionally, despite not happening until summer of 2019, tickets for their upcoming Bandito tour have been sold out and are even keeping ticket touts in business for astronomical resale prices. And even on this website, there's astronomical praise, with a 5/5 review ready for viewing upon clicking on this album's page. How is any of this weird, you ask? It's because despite the sparkling text and left-and-right histrionics, Trench
, like its predecessor Blurryface
, is a shockingly, unbelievably terrible album, and everybody seems to be so strangely afraid of saying it. So if they won't... I will.
If any of you are familiar with the rather harsh review of Blurryface that I wrote some time back in 2015, then you might find what I'm about to say pretty surprising: for all the shit I give them, there's just as much about the band that I find impressive; the main one, in particular, being that as of this year, they've made not one, not two- hell, as much as FIVE whopping albums full of failed attempts to come off as the cleverest band out there, instead only perpetuating themselves as probably the least self aware modern rock band there is today. For a band to have lasted almost 10 years and coasting on the "skeleton clique", it's as impressive as it is rather quite bizarre that they've spent almost a decade making some of the least catchy/self-aware/both music there is, trying to convince us otherwise. Making things worse, initial impressions of Trench were rather quite solid. As 90 percent of bands today often do, frontman Tyler Joseph had hyped the album up as being "radically different" and a "total departure" from Blurryface. To further this, both he and Josh Dun thought there was no better way of proving this than singling out album opener "Jumpsuit" as the best indication of this new era. And for all its headiness, "Jumpsuit" is actually quite a solid tune. It is indeed pretty different from what we're used to from the duo, with a heavier sound and catchy (if slightly repetitive) main riff, complimented with a more emotional than usual vocal performance from Joseph himself. However, one danger that comes with this type of promise is the danger of said song being the best song (and in most cases, the only good one) on the album. Regardless, "Jumpsuit" is indeed a solid tune and a good way to inspire promise for a new direction.
Unfortunately, that one nagging concern I mentioned in the above paragraph indeed ended up being correct. Worse, immediately after this, Trench picks pretty much right up where Blurryface left off and returns to the haunts of old. At this point, the album basically becomes an hour-long TØP checklist. Pseudo-"soaring" vocal melodies from Joseph for the sole purpose of splooging his vocals wherever he conveniently can? Check. Over-optimistic rapping that sounds like a lower-pitched Ralph Wiggum, mixed with bored sounding rap? Check. Random synth boops and blipps nonsensically sprinkled throughout the song? Check. Josh Dun trying to compensate for his Lars Ulrich-tier drumming by doing micro-drum fills? Check.
This goes on and on for an hour, and it all starts with "Levitate", a contender for worst song of the year and easily the song that sums up everything wrong with both this album and the band in general. It consists of Tyler Joseph's particularly unimpressive rapping over an admittedly decent (but not great) dark beat that lasts for nearly four minutes. The rap sounds like it's from a completely different song, and in a typical Tyler Joseph fashion, is about as wordy and overstuffed as it gets. What truly pains me about this is that Joseph isn't a particularly bad drummer. If songs like "Ode to Sleep" and "Stressed Out" are any indication, he can impress with his rap when he wants to. But he seems to have no flow and tries to compensate for it by shoving in as many words as he can into the verses. It's absolutely painful to listen to. Things don't get a whole lot better from here. While some tracks end up being decent ("My Blood", "Chlorine"), the majority of the others range from unremarkable/forgettable/both ("Bandito", "Pet Cheetah") to pure CRINGE, ("Nico and the Niners", "Cut My Lip"). The whole album just sounds farted out. For all the shit I gave their previous album Blurryface
, at least some of the songs had a really energetic feel to them- here, everything seems so routine and tired. And while there are some moments where the band try to shake things up (the Muse-esque synth arpeggios on "Leave the City", the clear Steely Dan influences on the instrumentation in "Legend"), it more often than not just comes across as calculated risk. This isn't helped by the album's piss-poor production; the majority of the album has absolutely zero dynamics or low end, often sounding like it's coming out of a shot car stero. It's also not helped by a number of absolutely ill-advised musical decisions that slip through the cracks.
Want to hear the band sound like The Front Bottoms at drunken karaoke? Then satisfy your morbid desires by listening to "Nico and the Niners". Want to hear Tyler Joseph violate your ears over and over with unimpressive and extremely ill-advised falsetto? "Smithereens" and "Legend" are full of that; the former is aruably the worse one of the bunch. In addition to the aforementioned falsetto, the instrumental backing sounds like it came from a 90s children's program with overly-synthesized flutes that never create anything resembling a hook. "Pet Cheetah" wastes its awesome title on a song that's half "Stock TOP" music, and takes way too fucking long to pick up... and when it does, it lasts for only 30 seconds. Admittedly, Joseph's verse ("I've got a pet cheetah down in my basement/I've raised him, and bathed him/And named him Jason Statham
") livens things up a bit, but that's as close as the song gets to being anything resembling remarkable. And while "Morph" has an interesting beat, it's ruined by MORE ill-advised falsetto and Joseph's pathetic, energy-free rap. The band have also often failed at making compelling ballads, and two of the album's ballads, "Bandito" and "Leave the City" show some promise with minimalistic, piano-based instrumentation, but frustratingly lumber on and on without ever finding something resembling a hook, or even a climax of some sort. "Leave the City" does feel like it's building up to something, but peters out before it ever truly does anything interesting; to make things worse, it's the last song on the album. There's also been talk of the album being a concept album, set in a post-apocalyptic city named "Dema" or whatever. But at no point did I feel like the album was unified by a theme of some sort, outside of some lyrical mentions of jumpsuits and levitation.
It really is frustrating watching these guys. It's clear that they have tons of ambition and a decent amount of talent. Genre roulette has never been new, but the issue is that they struggle at making it sound like anything more than a complete mess. The one thing I've always been able to give them credit for is that they at least have their own sound, and I almost never feel like I've heard whatever it is they're trying this week or that week before, but just because something is original, doesn't mean it works. And I really do believe that they could be a great band if they want to. Who knows, maybe they'll prove me wrong one day and release a truly great album. But for now, it's clear they still have trouble managing to create something cohesive, approaching their goals with the grace of a bike with a stolen front wheel.
Worse? If their sales are any indication, it seems to be WORKING, so it looks like that may be too much to ask.