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The 2015 release of Twenty One Pilots' junior LP Blurryface had initiated an era of sensationalism for members Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun. Their record’s transition away from quirky alternative pop and towards a more mainstream synth-pop outfit triggered a storm of industry recognition and mixed fan responses, placing Twenty One Pilots at the center of pop music discussion. After two years of relentlessly touring on Blurryface, the duo had stepped down from their international platform to begin working on what is now the fifth addition to their discography, Trench, released October 5. Comprised of their style’s chaotic charm and a backbone of heavy electronic dub, this concept album marks a new age in the timeline of this band’s ever-developing sound.
No one was particularly shocked by the obscure teasers and dense storylines that backed the promotion of Trench, but rather by the stunning stylistic direction taken by the new material. Known more so, though, for their catchy melodies and millennial appeal than their coined ‘schizophrenic’ style and shameless live performances, this little band’s rise to fame has bred some big conceptions. These, however, have given way to a number of track concepts in this new collection, driven by Tyler’s candid commentary on celebrity, social hierarchy, and culture. “Neon Gravestones” is probably the most compelling look into his perspective, with lyrics such as, “My opinion, our culture can treat a loss like it’s a win and right before we turn on them we give them the highest of praise and hang their banner from the ceiling, communicating, further engraving an earlier grave is an optional way.”
Even if you can’t quite stomach this record’s more produced sound, the depth of these guys’ songwriting will have you either listening closely, or not at all. Each track is intriguing and, while they may indulge heavily in pop influences, are packed with utterly electric sounds. Experimentation has always been the core of Joseph and Dun’s music creation, along with their capacity to bend and blend an array of genres, but Trench has added some new genres to their eclectic soundscape—RNB (“Morph”), avant-indie (“Pet Cheetah”), 80s pop (“Legend”), and mellow pop (“Bandito”). As a band that was brought up by underground punk and taken under the wing of pop punk icons Fall Out Boy, Panic! At The Disco and Paramore, it is clear that these guys are no longer using their roots as a crutch for their style.
This new project feels much more focused on the calculated production of each song’s rich, multilayered sound. From the the dark industrial reverb of “Pet Cheetah” to the swells of optimism in “The Hype,” the musical and emotional maturity weaved into these tracks set this collection apart from earlier work. Whereas these guys loved to lay on the sunny, chaotic beats in order to disguise their darker lyrical content, the darkness feels as though it’s seeped out into the sound of this record. Trench burns slowly through tracks with a more composed intensity. The downtempo-driven song “Chlorine” alone fuses mellow hip hop verses, sedated beats, ambient sounds, ghostly harmonies, and clever word play, showcasing the scope of this band’s stylistic growth.
But for those still scavenging for hints of early Twenty One Pilots, you may not need to dig too deeply. This record’s electronic façade is far from bereft of the lyrical introspection and characteristic moodiness that long-time fans had grown initially attached to. As has been typical with even the earliest pieces of their discography, their lyrics continue to drive the visual and conceptual elements of these songs and remain carried along by Joseph’s playful and confident vocal experimentation. As my good friend and Twenty One Pilots counterpart Joey Lunn put it, “I love exploring Tyler’s mind through great music.” This is exactly the kind of intimacy this band intends to form with their listeners, cutting through the noise with unique noises of their own in order to reach those interested in what they have to say. The two minds behind Twenty One Pilots, after self-creating a massive stage for themselves out of local anonymity, are clearly thinking nothing but bigger. Listen to Twenty One Pilots’ Trench below, and stream their full discography on Spotify or Apple Music.