Trench is very much a direct successor to Blurryface, inheriting familiar conceptual characters, as well as treading on similarly delicate topics, and then some.
In the earliest years of the new millennia, alternative rock was virtually at the peak of its commercial power: subgenres like nu metal, post-grunge and emo were *fresh* and *exciting*, and bands like Linkin Park and Nickelback had a lion’s share of the airwaves when it came to radio play. This renaissance was short-lived, however, as even now- little more than a decade and a half later- it’s wholly reasonable to suggest that most of the music spawned from the aforementioned scenes has aged poorly and, with the irresistible emergence of hip-hop during the 2000s, radio-friendly rock music swiftly fell by the wayside. Whilst this marked the end of mainstream success for this branch of alternative music, many of these bands have enjoyed lengthy careers to the present day, and even influenced newer artists and bands formed after their heyday.
Mind you, it’d be very unfair to pigeonhole Twenty One Pilots- the duo hailing from Columbus, Ohio, consisting of lead vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Tyler Joseph and drummer Josh Dun- as merely an alternative rock band. With their previous two albums Vessel and Blurryface, Joseph and Dun have garnered a die-hard cult fandom, as well as enjoying commercial success with their Grammy-winning smash hit “Stressed Out”. Their music is a melting pot of genres including, but not limited to alternative, rap, electronica… and an unusual amount of reggae (revisit MAGIC!’s nightmarish earworm “Rude” if you’re unsure as to whether this is a good or a bad thing). Whilst eclecticism and experimentation are both a definite cause for celebration in music, their discography has been marred by lacklustre, formulaic songwriting as well as their constant genre hopping leaving a lot to be desired when it came to crafting a cohesive album. As such, I honestly couldn’t see myself enjoying anything from them in the future.
Trench, their fifth studio album, opens with “Jumpsuit”- which is, simply put, a smack in the face for anyone who, like myself, held any skepticism toward this band. Jam-packed with muscular bass riffs and jagged synth lines, Joseph and Dun kick this record off in the strongest way possible. It doesn’t end there, as the subsequent tracks are some of the best in there entire catalogue so far: “Levitate” sees Joseph tear through rap verses at lightning pace, whilst “Morph” and “My Blood” are both prime examples that the pair are more than capable of building brilliant songs around the sort of catchy hooks you, more than likely, already know them well for.
Whilst Twenty One Pilots’ broad palette of influences is still very much apparent on this record, the band make a much better job of flowing through different moods and sounds. Much of this could be credited to seasoned indie musician Paul Meany of Mutemath, who assisted in the production of Trench alongside Joseph. Lyrically, Joseph is no stranger to exploring personal subject matters, weaving messages of insecurity into the dense lore of their preceding album. Trench is very much a direct successor to Blurryface, inheriting familiar conceptual characters, as well as treading on similarly delicate topics, and then some (“Neon Gravestones” sees Tyler Joseph ruminate on society’s perception of suicide, and then Joseph goes on to celebrate the life of his late grandfather on “Legend”).
My only real critique of this album is its length, clocking in at just short of an hour. Amidst the excellent tracks on Trench, I can’t help but feel that the record would’ve benefitted from trimming some of the slightly less stirring tunes. Make no mistake though, this is the duo’s most mature and stylistically consistent effort to date, and I dare say that I look forward to hearing what they may have to offer in the next few years.