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Twenty One Pilots break old habits on “Trench”

Alex Toth, Features Editor

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I did not expect this album from Twenty One Pilots in 2018. To be honest, I’d be surprised if anyone did.

After “Blurryface” catapulted them into the mainstream three years ago, it seemed certain that the duo would continue to aim for more accessible production and structure to capitalize on their newfound fame. This couldn’t be more wrong.

The album artwork for “Trench.” Courtesy of Fueled by Ramen.

“Trench” is Twenty One Pilots’ most mature, cohesive and experimental effort to date. One listen to “Pet Cheetah,” a standout from the back half of the album, tells you all you need to know about the new direction that the band’s sound has taken. Dark, ominous synths are impactful but not over the top, and vocalist Tyler Joseph’s choppy flow is contrasted by a soothing chorus with soft, vulnerable singing.

On this song and many others on “Trench,” the band shows a certain restraint that they lacked on previous records. This restraint is what makes “Trench” feel so refreshing in the wake of “Blurryface” and its utter lack of subtlety.

Joseph has decided to sing with proper technique on this album, casting aside the shouty vocal style of their past work that, while undeniably passionate and emotional, also bordered on melodramatic a few too many times.

Instead, these bursts of emotion are limited to a select few moments throughout the album (see the end of lead single “Jumpsuit” and the straightforward lyrics on album highlight “Neon Gravestones”), which allows them to have a far greater impact than ever before.

Joseph isn’t the only member to embrace this newfound restrained approach. His bandmate and drummer, Josh Dun, has also switched up his style, opting to focus on consistent rhythm and groove instead of going for all-out speed. This allows every song on the record to form its own identity around his drum tracks, which are more varied than ever.

One might see this as a surprising claim. After “Blurryface” jumped from hip-hop to indie pop to trap to reggae and back again all within a couple songs, how could “Trench” be more varied, yet also more cohesive at the same time?

The simple answer is that the variations here are more subtle and tasteful than on “Blurryface.” Where the last album felt jumpy and messy, like a child with ADHD, “Trench” feels like it carries a theme throughout. It feels like a concept album due to the cohesiveness of the sound, not because of a cringe-inducing “Blurryface” character awkwardly placed throughout the album.

Don’t be mistaken, Twenty One Pilots still experiment with plenty of sounds and genres on “Trench.” Songs like “My Blood” and “Smithereens” are bright indie-pop with falsetto vocals reminiscent of MGMT, while “Levitate” and the aforementioned “Pet Cheetah” are dark hip-hop escapades centered around Tyler Joseph’s much-improved rapping. Unlike their last record, these forays into different genres are reigned in by Josh Dun’s newfound consistency in his drum patterns, making each venture into new territory sound like a connected branch of the same project instead of a jumbled mess.  

“Trench” isn’t without its low points, however. Some cuts from the middle of the album, such as “Cut My Lip” and the Oasis-esque “The Hype” seem to begin and end without much of note happening. Luckily, anything that could be called filler is limited to these two songs, and even they aren’t bad, just not as good as the other 12.

Overall, while I still prefer “Vessel” for its raw, youthful, untamed sound, “Trench” can easily take a spot close to the top of Twenty One Pilots discography. After the mess that was “Blurryface,” it’s great to see that the duo from Columbus, Ohio still has the chops to make a fantastic album.

Rating: 4/5 sails


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1 Comment

One Response to “Twenty One Pilots break old habits on “Trench””

  1. Matt on December 7th, 2018 10:37 am

    You make some good points, however I think you miss the point of this band. They are not conforming to the rules you think make good music. They are the first band that I can remember to capture an audience of 8 year old children through to 70 year old+ audiences.

    I believe these two create a genre based on talent that was not recognized or developed through traditional music, and they simply put on an amazing show. You make mention to the fact of improvement. I wonder how you would view Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, or a band like the Beatles at the start of their careers. AS a duo, they tick a lot of boxes.

    I am no musician, but I have always loved music. These guys are genuine stars, and I am sure they are only getting started. Time will tell. All I see, is a variety of talent, confidence and some music that just makes me want to play it over and over.

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Twenty One Pilots break old habits on “Trench”