Discography Dive: twenty one pilots
Album #5: Trench (2018)
I’ve had previous written a formal review for Trench on an independent site called the Amplifier, that has since been shut down (?) so it’s no longer available to read. Luckily I still have it saved. This review took me HOURS to write and I only wrote it because quarantine was incredibly boring and I wanted to challenge myself. Doing reviews like this frequently seems like an impossibility now. Anyway, here it is:
Blurryface was undoubtedly the breakout moment for twenty one pilots, as both Stressed Out and Ride found mainstream success, with the former allowing the duo to accept a Grammy in their underwear. But Blurryface remained a mixed bag. Sure, there were definitely some highlights, but there were quite a few low points as well. Regardless, it was a successful record for the band, so it came as quite a surprise when the band went on a year-long break following their ‘Tour de Columbus’ in the summer of 2017.
But this break seems like it was a necessity for frontman Tyler Joseph, as he “needed change of pace / Couldn’t take the pace of change moving hastily”, as stated in the closing track Leave the City. It was also during this year that Joseph conceptualized the world of Trench, as well as recorded and wrote the majority of the record from his home studio, only receiving contributions from drummer Josh Dun and Mutemath member, Paul Meany.
Although twenty one pilots remained quiet for this year, they still left behind a whole world for their fans to discover. At some point in the spring of 2018, fans discovered a website of theirs detailing the account of a fictional character by the name of Clancy who lived in Dema (also fictional), along with myriad other clues and pieces of information regarding the world of Trench. It was truly an exciting moment for fans of the band, and I imagine, made the listening experience of Trench far more personal than that of those who went into the record without understanding the lore. That being said, by no means is the success of Trench as a project dependent on the listener’s prior knowledge of this fictional world. Even without knowing who Clancy is (who is not mentioned on the album once I might add), Trench is an extremely enjoyable project front to back. I myself can hardly remember the story of Clancy. But, to provide some context of the world of Trench; Dema is a city ruled by nine oppressive bishops (or the Niners, as later referred to on the record), while a rebellion group of sorts, the Banditos, live outside the city.
Trench is arguably the pair’s best project, and at the very least their most cohesive, which might come as a surprise considering the instrumental and stylistic pallet explored across the fourteen tracks, but somehow, the diversity in sound just works for the band. And it all starts with Jumpsuit, easily the most hard-hitting song the pair have released during their time together, starting off with sirens and an extremely thick, soaring baseline. It is quite a spectacular sound to hear, however, is not indicative of the sounds found across the rest of the record.
As previosuly mentioned, Trench is an extremely sonically diverse record, and this sonic diversity presents itself very early on in the record, seen as soon as Jumpsuit (a more rock oriented track), transitions seamlessly into Levitate, a rap song. Levitate is not the only track on which Tyler raps, but also Pet Cheetah, moments on Chlorine and Morph, and on Neon Gravestone to a certain extent. Not only is there diversity in sound, but each track is expertly arranged. The best example of this is the track Chlorine, one of the catchiest tracks here; “Sippin’ on straight chlorine”. The track remains upbeat up until the end where it transitions to a gorgeous extended outro that honestly brings me chills. Once again, it’s just suprising that such a transition works as well as it does, and that seems to be a common theme among the record; just how surprisingly well everything works. Who would have imagined a song titled Pet Cheetah would be as good as it is without coming across as corny or trite? But it’s just evidence to Tyler Joseph’s fantastic songwriting skills, skills that have greatly improved since the release of their first record.
In terms of songwriting on Trench, Neon Gravestones is perhaps the most important song Tyler Joseph has ever written. On this track, Tyler tackles the topic of suicide, (a topic twenty one pilots have never shyed away from), but this time discussing the glorification of an early death that often presents itself in popular culture. Tyler says, “our culture can treat a loss like it’s a win / But right before we turn on them, we give ‘em / The highest of praise and hang their banner from the ceiling / Communicating, further engraving ‘an earlier grave is an optional way’”. Tyler even goes on to discuss how he himself could boost his reputation if he were to “go out with a bang”. Dispite the sensitive subject matter, it really is a beautiful song, and it ends perfectly, with Tyler saying, “Find your grandparents or someone of age / Pay some respects for the path that they paved / To life they were dedicated / Now that should be celebrated.”
Trench is a phenomenal record and truly demonstrates the growth the band has undergone since their formation. It’s their catchiest, grooviest, and most gratifying release yet, and although there is lore behind the record one could delve into, you really don’t need to know any of it to enjoy the album as is, as it’s extremely well produced and well written throughout. For those who didn’t enjoy Blurryface or Vessel (which is understandable), Trench might just be the album for you.
Favorite Tracks: All
Least Favorites: n/a