The highly anticipated Trench makes waves in the modern rock scene – but is it good?
Twenty One Pilots, a two-piece American alternative band, released their highly anticipated album Trench on October 5th, 2018, which is the first release from the band since 2015’s wildly successful Blurryface. Tyler Joseph is the frontman and the driving force behind the band’s songwriting. Drummer Josh Dunn completes the duo, providing a solid foundation for the group’s unique sound. One of Twenty One Pilots’ most unique aspects is their fusion of a smattering of genres, including rock, hip-hop, reggae and electronica. The band’s success can be traced to their incorporation of popular music styles into their songs, as Twenty One Pilots draws both fans of alternative rock and fans of hip-hop and pop music.
Trench has achieved critical acclaim, with many praising its more mature sound and cohesive storytelling. The lore behind the album, which expands upon the plot of Blurryface, tells the story of an unnamed protagonist who lives in a walled city called Dema. The city is a dystopia, ruled by Nicolas Bourbaki (referenced as Nico on the track “Nico and the Niners”) and his eight fellow bishops. The protagonist joins the Banditos, a resistance group struggling to liberate the people of Dema from the rule of the bishops. The Banditos adopt the color yellow because the Bishops are unable to see it, allowing them to evade capture. Yellow dominates the aesthetic of the album, reaffirming the thematic ideas of covert resistance.
Trench’s sound is distinctly Twenty One Pilots – but what does that mean? The band is not easily defined by genre labels, and it’s hard to categorize the music they make by the broader definition of rock. Twenty One Pilots is a front-runner in the pop-rock of the modern era, featuring drums, bass, piano, ukulele, and electronic elements. Many bands at the forefront of modern rock are eliminating guitar almost entirely from their music. Artists like Grandson, Royal Blood, and of course Twenty One Pilots are all highly successful rock musicians that use little to no guitar in their compositions. Each band has a different method for replacing the high notes that are left unplayed in the absence of guitar; Royal Blood uses a variety of amplifiers and effect pedals on the bass, Grandson incorporates computer generated music akin to dubstep, and Twenty One Pilots utilizes the piano. These bands are highly interesting in their instrumentals, as they stray from the fundamentals of rock music that have been in place for nearly a century. Trench is the latest release by Twenty One Pilots to continue the trend that’s being set, and it makes for music that’s more fresh and exciting for consumers of many genres.
The album’s opening track, “Jumpsuit,” is an intense experience that features a chugging bass riff that’s reminiscent of the signature style of the band Royal Blood or the heavier works of the band Muse. The song is slightly repetitive, but nearing its conclusion the track softens only to explode into a powerful crescendo moments later. One of the best moments comes at the end of Jumpsuit, as it transitions seamlessly into the next song “Levitate.” Levitate is a rap track that, although average when it stands alone, makes Jumpsuit feel more complete in the context of the record as a whole. Both “Morph,” (a heavily hip-hop influenced song with an fun, off-kilter piano melody) and “My Blood,” (an ambient alt-rock tune with a memorable anchoring bassline akin to “Pumped up Kicks” by Foster the People) follow Levitate, displaying Joseph’s impressive falsetto. Track five, “Chlorine,” is the best track on the album, combining all the catchy production that made Blurryface such a huge hit with the more gritty and driven mood of the new record.
The album doesn’t taper off after the first half of the album, either. “Nico And The Niners” is one of the strongest songs on the album, utilizing a plethora of effects to distort the vocals to create an odd but immersive experience. “Cut My Lip” borrows heavily from reggae music, featuring a bloopy keyboard melody and the talk-singing vocal style that’s characteristic of reggae. The clear influences don’t detract from the song, though, as the distorted basslines and falsettos that are heavily featured in Trench appear here too. The record finishes on a high note, as the final song “Leave The City” provides a fitting conclusion both tonally and from a story perspective. “Leave The City” is slow, melodic, and somber, building up to a crescendo that completely falls flat. The anticipated crescendo is cut off, and it makes for an unexpected finish to the 14 track album. This leaves the lore of the album unfinished, setting up for the next album to continue the story to its conclusion.
Not every song on Trench is a step in the right direction, though. “Legend” is a song dedicated to Joseph’s grandfather who passed away early in 2018. The song is heartfelt, and the lyrics provide a sweet tribute. The issue is that it feels totally out of place in the album. The song was a last-minute shoe-in to an already long album, and works with none of the thematic ideas included in the rest of the album. The ukulele especially sticks out like a sore thumb in the context of the record, as the rest of the songs exclude the instrument altogether. The song isn’t a bad song by any means – and would certainly fit with some of the band’s previous works – but it really detracts from the immersion of the fantasy world that Joseph had created in the rest of the tracks. “Neon Gravestones” is a decent song in terms of instrumentals, but its lyrics have sparked some controversy. The song focuses on suicide, but takes the stance that people tend to glorify artists such as Chris Cornell or Chester Bennington after their suicide. Joseph makes the claim in this track that society is enabling and encouraging these deaths. He finishes by saying that people should be celebrating the lives of those were “committed” to living, which many have seen as distasteful and disrespectful to those who take their own lives.
Even despite its flaws, Trench is an incredible album. The quality of the record rivals that of Vessel, and makes leaps and bounds in improving upon the previous album, Blurryface. Over half of the album’s tracks made it onto my playlists, an honor previously held only by records from System of a Down and Rage Against the Machine. This record is far and away one of the best albums I’ve ever heard; the cohesive mood, the impeccable bass tone, and the immersive story elements make Trench a classic one, a legend in my own mind.