Written by Carmen Mueller
After all the cryptic messages, the symbolic music videos, and an abundance of neon yellow, Twenty One Pilots dropped their fifth studio album on October 5th , titled Trench. Since the Ohio duo released their track “Heathens” for DC’s Suicide Squad, the band had been relatively quiet. That was until they started dropping messages on their website begging to be decoded; and once they did, the themes and lore of the album became a game for anyone willing tackle it. Regardless of the theories, secrecy, and lore, once the band dropped their first four singles, I knew that we were getting something different from their past projects
The first two snippets of new material from TOP came when they released “Jumpsuit” and “Nico and the Niners”. Both songs sample bits of what we love about the band; Tyler Joseph showcased his rapping and screaming skills while Josh Dun killed it on the drums every time. The tracks play around with vocal manipulations and themes of apprehension and facades which were featured on their last album. Blurryface’s concept that followed Joseph’s alter ego of the same name, and this this album has its fair share of lore as well. The story is all about Dema, the city that TOP is in conflict with. Whether Dema is representative of mental health, themselves as a band, or is a take on the real world is up to interpretation; however, this is a sort of playground where the tracks and the stories can take place. The next two singles that followed are “Levitate” and “My Blood”; the first is a shorter track that features Joseph’s rapping which alludes to an old favorite “Car Radio”. It’s a whirring song that talks of rising above those who smile when you fail. The latter is a guitar driven song with synth accents and Dun’s great drumming that displays a brotherly love. All the tracks have a music video to accompany them which only builds off of the stories in the album thus far. While these four are incredible songs, the rest of the album is nothing short of great.
In the past, while remaining incredibly hard to put into a box, some of TOP’s songs have been able to make it to mainstream radio: “Stressed Out” being the most notable. However, this album is something that I think is more about the artistry than the likeability, which is something that TOP would do. For example, the track “Morph” has a rapping style that is a bit unusual and takes a moment to get used to. Joseph shows off his falsetto while singing about his own morality and identity. It has so many layers and intricacies in the sound, which makes it a standout. Another track that focuses on the major vision of the album is “Bandito”. It plays a lot with the story they have created with their music videos. Amidst the talk of bandits, rebellion, and anarchy in this song, it reveals that this album is an outlet for TOP; it allows them to make sense of the world through being creative. However, there is risk when trying to remain authentic and evolutionary. “Pet Cheetah” displays TOP’s apprehension about their music because they don’t want to lose their supporters or their “clique”. The pet cheetah involved in the song could refer to how Joseph has created a persona for himself; one is his authentic self, while the other is the producer or the “pet cheetah” in the studio.
While some songs directly tie in with the lore of the album, a lot of the tracks may substitute some of the story to touch on really serious topics. “Chlorine” is a totally fun sounding track that just so happens to be super dark and eerie. The lyrics talk of sipping straight chlorine, eating lead, and loving it: which as you may guess, is literally lethal. This morbid writing style is no stranger to the band, and it makes its return early on the album. The next in line for heavy subject matter is “Neon Gravestones” which talks about how romanticizing suicide causes a ton of problems. They struggle with the idea of young kids finding suicide as an answer, suicide being used as revenge, and the stigma that surrounds who do and do not qualify for depression.
While, yes, TOP know how to make their emo-centric songs, they also excel in their ability to inspire those warm, fuzzy feelings. “Smithereens” is one of the sweetest songs on the project, which reminds me of their beloved “Tear In My Heart”. Joseph pretty much declares that he wouldn’t mind being beating to smithereens and upsetting those around him if that meant he could stand up for his girl. “The Hype” also promotes the idea of having hope in an all-too-disappointing-world by holding on to those people who love and care for you. This idea of leaning on loved ones is reiterated in the uplifting track, “Cut My Lip”. It celebrates the idea of self-care and perseverance regardless of how hard you fall. It also highlights just how clever of writers the duo is. One of the smartest lines on the whole album has to be “I’m a lion/ I don’t mind at all/ Lean on my pride”; sometimes it’s best to swallow your ego and lean on your loved ones like a lion leans on their pride. I think one of TOP’s greatest assets is their ability to point out the raw and fragile bits of the human experience while following that with remedial injections in the form of comforting lyrics. “Legend” is one of the most personal songs on the project which pays tribute to Joseph’s grandfather who has passed away. The track reminisces on their relationship, and how Tyler wished he had spent more time with his grandpa before he passed. It’s a sweet song that bursts with a horn section and really adorable lyrics.
The final song “Leave the City” closes the album off, full-circle. The imagery of the City of Dema and trying to escape gives us the feeling of transitioning. The whole album has been an outlet for the band, so if they are leaving the city, they are leaving this era and setting up their future. The journey can be a huge reward, despite how daunting and scary change can be. It’s a soft electronic beat with great drums by Dun, which sounds like a band of misfits marching out into the unknown.
Overall, I think this was a really strong album for Twenty One Pilots to release. While I don’t think it will see a lot of mainstream radio play, I think it is a wonderful example of a concept album with artistry, intimacy, and purpose. They never fail to try new sounds and they know how to write smart music. As a TOP fan, I think a lot of fans, new and old can find a lot to love on this album.