Trench – Twenty One Pilots

Finally, we’re at the Trench review! This is a fantastic album, though you’ll really want good audio to listen to it. Thanks in part to MUTEMATH’s Paul Meany, Twenty One Pilots got darker and more serious, dipping further into experimental, emotive electronic sounds. The concept surrounding the album discusses a city known as Dema ruled by nine bishops, including an interesting new character, Nicolas Bourbaki; the lyrics on this album are constantly mysterious and evocative, making the listener simultaneously empathize with Joseph’s characters and wonder exactly who they are. The music is full of beautiful layered melodies, like the fabulous synth riffs at the end of the melodically intense “Morph” or the fantastic meandering synth lines that create the emotional context of “Jumpsuit”; the mix is such that you will need good audio to hear every note. Listen closely to the way the vocal and string melodies weave as “Chlorine” progresses; it’s really written like a symphony, and it’s poignant and harmonically intense. Immediately, it’s followed by the silly, light intro to “Smithereens”, with campy lyrics and a bouncy melody in the vocals building off loose, fun triangle backing. Josh Dun’s percussion is always vibrant and engaging, creating complex and fun rhythms; really, take the time to listen to this album and intentionally focus on those drums, because he’s always making unique, interesting choices that perfectly fit the tracks. Tyler Joseph’s vocal performance here sacrifices some of his youthful vulnerability in exchange for certainty and power, often accentuated by expertly plotted vocal harmonies; it’s a great choice for this album, and it serves his faster raps beautifully. “Levitate” runs on an intense, on-point delivery of a complicated, cutting rhythmic rap, and that’s on top of syncopated drums and cloudy synths that shift between muddy jazz harmony and jagged Phrygian chords; it might be my favorite song on this album, but it’s so hard to choose. I could gush about the heavy attention paid to the rhythm on “Neon Gravestones”, a waltz-time banger from the expertly subdivided rap verses to the sea-shanty chorus over a break beat. The key change on “Nico and the Niners” is well-written and genuinely interesting, because the indicators that we should be latching onto a D as our key center in the intro actually clash with the A minor harmony that pervades the entire song. (Gotta love that Joseph orients us around the key center with a lyric about locational orientation.) The ethereal feeling of “Cut My Lip”, buoyed by measured drums, off-beat piano chords, and off-kilter vocal harmonies, really gets to me, and it’s even more effective on the later-released Brooklyn version, so check that out. There are a couple tracks, like “Pet Cheetah” and “Bandito”, where the entire song focuses on those extremely well-put-together vocal harmonies, with an emotional but minimalist synth beat underneath; these tracks work because of the incredible care put into every element. “Pet Cheetah” boasts a i-VII (Gm-F#) chord progression, a fear-inducing riff, and a tense, evocative rap; it’s fantastic. There’s a lot to learn from this album, which has earned its place in this list many times over, and I hope you enjoy listening to it as much as I do.

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