Garth Van Donselaar and Zach Steensma–Staff Writers
With Contributions from Adam Galloy
Three years after Blurryface, the hit album that brought them into the mainstream, Twenty One Pilots returns with their highly anticipated new album, Trench.
Sonically, Trench has a crisp sound and clean mixing. Nothing on Trench is drowned out or sounds out of place. However, almost all the instruments have a programmed feel. While this may be a deliberate artistic choice, it gives the album a robotic, cold sound.
Even though the instrumentation sounds robotic, Twenty One Pilots definitely knows how to build a track, as shown in the mixing and production of this record. Synths, brass, strings, percussion, and even a ukulele are featured in songs, and there is a consistent, well maintained balance throughout the album.
Even though a wide range of instruments are used throughout Trench, there is still a lack of variety on the record when it comes to execution, as the instruments generally fulfil the same roles. Most tracks seem built to sound like typical alternative hip-hop fare, something fans have no doubt come to expect, but newcomers might not find it very unique or challenging.
Whether it’s the disco vibe of “My Blood” or the distorted bass hook of “Pet Cheetah,” the instrumentals seem built on top of the drums in order fill the space on the track, rather than adding depth to the sound. And when frontman Tyler Joseph is singing, the instrumentals are usually stripped down to just the drums.
As for Joseph’s performance, it’s nothing out of the normal for him. His rapping and singing sounds similar to previous Twenty One Pilots’s releases; occasionally, he’ll sing in falsetto, but sparingly on Trench. Those who enjoy Joseph’s distinct voice will feel right at home.
For the concept behind Trench, Joseph created a dystopian city of Dema, which is symbolic of depression. Trench follows the story of a protagonist named Clancy, who tries to escape Dema and its totalitarian leaders, known as Nico and the Niners.
Try saying that out loud without laughing. Joseph’s lyrics lack depth and feel like cookie cutout description of what it feels like to be depressed. However, fourteen year olds will feel as if these lyrics were written by someone who truly gets them. One such example from “The Hype”: “Nice to know my kind will be on my side, I don’t believe the hype.”
Obvious and unoriginal imagery plagues Trench; there are frequent references to a vulture, a clear symbol of death. The vulture is featured on the album cover, which is reminiscent of Death Cab for Cutie’s Transatlanticism.
Conceptually, Trench feels like Twenty One Pilots got a gig to make a soundtrack for a teen dystopian film (think Hunger Games), only without an actual movie.
For tracks as whole, the first four flow together almost seamlessly, and yet can stand on their own: “Jumpsuit” revolves around a distorted bass hook, “Levitate” is a fast paced rap, and “Morph” has a jazzy feel. “Levitate” and “Morph” in particular display smooth, mellow outros, rather than following the traditional alternating verse/chorus structure.
However, the latter portion of Trench falls off quickly, and, compared to the earlier tracks, brings nothing new or interesting to the table. “Legend” is a notable exception, a song about Joseph’s grandpa.
With little to offer outside of its initial tracks, Trench delivers a promising start, but lacks support in the second portion. While fans of the band may be able to find appeal in the lesser tracks, the average listener might want to pass on this one.
Best Songs: Levitate, Morph, Legend
If you have an album you would like to be reviewed, feel free to email Garth or Zach.