Blogtober Day 18: Ode to Trench
twenty one pilots released their fifth album, TRENCH, on the 5th of October, and I was too apprehensive to listen to it straight away, but now I’ve heard it a few times I wanted to get my thoughts about the album down. What better place to do that than here?
I had an adverse reaction to the release of Blurryface. It took months for me to enjoy listening to it from start to finish, and I still skip some of the songs three years later. The duo leapt from a subtle blend of indie, pop and rap (with rock undertones) straight to an over-produced style that led to them topping the charts, and I found it a little disillusioning (particularly with Tyler Joseph rapping, “There’s a few songs on this record that feel common,” during Lane Boy – if you think they’re common, why would you release them? I’m still filled with irrational rage by that one lyric).
Anyway, this isn’t about Blurryface, no matter how much I could go on about it. However, I did assume that the same thing was going to happen when I finally hit the play button on TRENCH.
I was wrong.
From the opening strains of Jumpsuit, it’s apparent that this album is a completely different beast to their previous releases. The bassline can only be described as meaty, thundering through your chest and catapulting you into the world that the band have created, set in the city of Dema.
Levitate ramps things up even further. In an almost ceaseless rap Joseph calls back to breakout hit Car Radio (“I got back what I once bought back/In that slot I won’t need to replace”) and briefly nods to Not Today, continuing twenty one pilots’ trend of intricately lacing all of their releases.
Morph sits beautifully in amongst the previously released singles, hinting that it’s likely to get an official release with a video sooner rather than later. With a chorus that veers from falsetto to slurring, almost indecipherable vocals, the constant dance beat in the background hints that this could be TRENCH‘s answer to Stressed Out: the song that will find itself played in clubs across the world, without too much focus on the surprisingly educational lyrics (with a shout out to Nicolas Bourbaki, the pseudonym for a group founded by nine French mathematicians – Nico and the Niners themselves).
If any of the tracks is competing with Morph to be the next big hit, it’s My Blood. Presumed to be written about Joseph’s brother, Zack (who lends his vocals to Kitchen Sink, one of the bonus tracks from 2013’s Vessel), it also leans towards the falsetto on the chorus, chanting “Stay with me/You don’t need to run/Stay with me/My blood/You don’t need to run,” enough times for it to be stuck in your head for days, but not enough for it to be overly repetitive. (It helps that the video is really cool, and perfect for Halloween).
I find myself surprised by the outro to Chlorine every time I listen to it. With an arena-ready chorus, it’s a surprise that the song isn’t appearing on the setlist for the Bandito tour (yet), but the outro adds a chilly, wintery vibe to a song that would otherwise excel on a huge festival stage. TRENCH is an album which keeps you on your toes, and despite listening to it on repeat all week while moving house, I still find myself surprised by the rapid shifts in pace and direction that it takes throughout the album.
Nothing startles me more than the contrast between Smithereens, Neon Gravestones and The Hype. Smithereens is a love song for Joseph’s wife, Jenna, in which he croons, “For you/I would get beat to smithereens” (ironic, considering she’s the one doing the beating in the video for Tear In My Heart). Meanwhile, The Hype is a summery anthem that screams windows down, wind in your hair.
That’s what makes the juxtaposition of those two surrounding Neon Gravestones so effective, yet so harrowing. Neon Gravestones is Tyler Joseph’s response to the recent increase in celebrity suicides, and the way that those who decide to end their lives seem to be celebrated more than those who live full lives and die of old age. It’s searingly honest and unbearably relevant, with Joseph using the bridge to beg, “Promise me this/If I lose to myself/You won’t mourn a day/And you’ll move on to someone else”.
The spoken word outro in particular is thought-provoking, with Joseph expressing his fears that the glorification of suicide could tempt desperate people to use it to their advantage: it’s worth keeping in mind. When you look at how many inspirational figures in the scene have passed at their own hand throughout the writing and release of TRENCH – most notably Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington – it’s not surprising that these thoughts were plaguing him.
While Neon Gravestones is the standout track on the album, the second half of TRENCH doesn’t let up. Nico and the Niners‘ reggae-influence is a throwback to Ride, showing the duo taking their exploration of the genre even further. Cut My Lip is probably the weakest track lyrically, bumbling along and not particularly getting anywhere, while Bandito is understated musically but jam-packed with the story of Dema and the Banditos, putting as much narrative into one song as is laced through the rest of the album. If I was less invested in twenty one pilots and this storyline, I might find it to be too much exposition, but as someone who has been following the story since the mysterious website first launched back in April I love the theatricality of it.
Those songs both give you a break before the surprise that is Pet Cheetah. Another theme which has been tackled on their previous releases has been Joseph’s struggle with writing under pressure (“I do not have writer’s block, my writer just hates the clock,” from Migraine being the most memorable example), and Pet Cheetah brings this struggle to life, veering from a slow and steady chorus to a whiplash-inducing rap introducing his pet cheetah, Jason Statham. It doesn’t sound like it’ll work in theory, but my god it works.
Legend is a bittersweet penultimate track, included as a tribute to Joseph’s grandfather who passed away in March. The lyrics of the first verse – “You were here when I wrote this/But the masters and mixes/Will take too long to finish/To show you” – speak for themselves, and despite the happy, House of Gold-esque backing, it’s hard not to want to weep for Joseph’s loss.
Final track Leave The City is unsettling, because it feels unfinished. Repeating “They know that it’s almost over”, it’s quite clearly the end of the album, but the track fades out and Jumpsuit fades in quite subtly, it doesn’t feel as though you really escape from the world of TRENCH before getting launched back into it. I think this is why I’ve listened to it on repeat so many times: it’s a journey, but it’s a pleasurable one, and one that it’s impossible to resist retaking.
I wasn’t planning on reviewing TRENCH, as I said at the start of this post, and I certainly wasn’t planning on writing over 1,000 words about it, but this is a masterpiece. I have a feeling TRENCH is going to be my album of the year for sure, and I hope that – if you were like me and found yourself falling out of love with the band thanks to their previous release – you’ll give them another chance, because TRENCH more than makes up for it.