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Culture Shock

Twenty One Pilots - Trench

Released October 5, 2018


After a long year off, Twenty One Pilots is back with an album full of meaningful bops. Trench continues and deepens the storyline that was created with their last album, Blurryface, which was released in 2015. Lead singer Tyler Joseph creates these incredibly captivating and cryptic storylines that are left open for interpretation. In this last album, the Blurryface character was introduced as a manifestation of Tyler’s insecurities and things holding him back. Blurryface details Tyler’s battles with his insecurities and depression in the form of this character. This storyline, while taking a different shape, continues in Trench with a story following a group of ‘banditos’ who are trying to escape this place called DEMA.

It is difficult to place this album under a specific, narrow genre. Overall, it’s classified as alternative, but it also encompasses sounds of pop, electronic, hip-hop, and reggae-rap genres. Twenty One Pilots is known for constantly changing their sound and Trench is a new kind of Twenty One Pilots sound in comparison to past albums. This constant changing of style keeps Twenty One Pilots fun to listen to and creates excitement because there is no knowing what to expect.

Four singles were released over the summer of 2018: “Jumpsuit,” “Nico and the Niners,” “Levitate,” and “My Blood.” The singles were released with music videos in which it seemed to follow a storyline where Tyler Joseph is trying to escape this place that has been referred to as DEMA. It is somehow associated with the hooded figure in the Jumpsuit music video, who is perceived to be Blurryface. In the second single, “Nico and the Niners”, Tyler sings about escaping DEMA: “DEMA don’t control us.” The last verse of the song is quick, acting as a sort of pep talk, “what a beautiful day for, making a break for it.”

While the tracks on Trench work together to create one whole concept, each song tells its own individual story. Joseph includes a song called “Legend” which is a tribute to his late grandfather, who he got his middle name from. While the lyrics are sad in some ways (“My middle name / my goodbye”), the song is upbeat and gives off happy vibes. The first verse starts with “You were here when I wrote this / But the masters and mixes / will take too long to finish to show you” which alludes to a video on the internet of Joseph’s grandfather asking for a song to be written about him but he died before he could ever hear the completed song. Joseph’s grandfather also appears on the cover of their third studio album, Vessel.

Possibly the most depressing song on the album is “Neon Gravestones” which discusses the glorification of suicide in the media. The song has a slow, somber beat. While being sad, the song is lyrically dense and pushes a message about the importance of not glorifying suicide. “My opinion, our culture can treat a loss like it’s a win…further engraving an earlier grave is an optional way / no.” While Twenty One Pilots are known for talking about themes of depression and suicide in their music, this is the first time they have been so explicit about the way that media addresses suicide. The song is very emotional, and it touched people so much, some already have tattoos for this song.

Aside from the usual somber topics in the band's song, this is the second album with a very direct love song, dedicated to Joseph’s wife, Jenna Joseph. “Smithereens” is a song with a lot of cymbals and love. Joseph sings “For you, I’d go / Step to a dude much bigger than me / For you, I know / I would get messed up / weigh 153.” Twenty One Pilots is a band who really cares about being true to their sounds and making the music they want to make, not what they think will please the public most. Joseph addresses this in “Smithereens” when he says “They think it’s messed up to sell out for your girl” but he does not care.

The song on the album that was most surprising (and my favorite) was “Pet Cheetah”. The song starts off with a slow, menacing beat then picks up with a more electronic sound and added drums. “Pet Cheetah” is fast-paced, very high energy and full of lyrics documenting Joseph fighting with his writer’s block, which he also references in an older song called “Migraine.” “I’ve got a pet cheetah, down in my basement” is thought to be a reference to Joseph himself when he is in the studio. Joseph goes on to sing “I’ll sit here ‘til I find the problem” which could be about him searching for problems in his writing and what can be improved. While being an upbeat song that is good to dance to, Joseph alludes to his anxieties about his fans, ‘the clique’ hearing his new music, “the clique means so much to this dude / it could make him afraid of his music”. By acknowledging the fans in the song, Joseph allows for a type of solidarity to be felt between the band and the fans which make the music more meaningful.

The album ends with “Leave The City” which is another slow and sad yet peaceful song which seems to be about something coming to an end-- definitely the end of the album but maybe also the end of an era, maybe the end of Joseph being held by his fears and insecurities. The song is more personal to the fans; “they know that it’s almost over...they know / what I mean.” A very popular concept with Twenty One Pilots is this message to stay alive, and there is a reminder of that in this song “In time, I will leave the city / for now, I will stay alive.”

With an ever-changing sound, it is difficult to compare new Twenty One Pilots albums to older ones but Trench is their most mature and abstract album yet. While their albums are all so unique in comparison, the music just gets better and better, and their concepts get more interesting as they build on each other.


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