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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

October 23, 2018   |   Ithaca, NY

Life & Culture

Review: Twenty One Pilots perfects signature alt-rock rap

Trench

Twenty One Pilots

After the release of its 2015 album, “Blurryface,” Ohio alt-rocker Twenty One Pilots soared through the Billboard Top 200 charts with its songs “Stressed Out” and “Ride” and made history by being recognized as the first album to have every song on the album to achieve more than 500,000 sales, establishing the duo as a known name in the alternative music scene. Three years after “Blurryface,” the group has returned with arguably one of the most highly anticipated albums of 2018 — “Trench.”

The songs in this LP describe a fictional, dystopian universe that represents lead singer Tyler Joseph’s issues with anxiety, depression and insecurities, similar to that of “Blurryface.” However, the band’s signature mix of alt-rock, rap, hip-hop and reggae influences, along with Joseph’s lyrics, makes it have a more cohesive feel.

The mix of genres is especially prevalent in the beginning tracks of “Trench.” The opening song “Jumpsuit” features a heavy, hard rock guitar riff and drums while Joseph screams about the pressure that comes with global fame. The next song, “Levitate,” has a more electro-pop feel with the use of synthesizers incorporated with Joseph’s rapping.

Joseph has developed the scope of his lyrics to address more subjects than just his struggles with mental illness. Songs like “My Blood” and “Smithereens” are odes to Joseph’s wife that describe how he will always love and defend her. The later track “Legend” honors Joseph’s late grandfather, who passed away earlier this year, while also serving as his personal goodbye to him.

The midpoint of the album, “Neon Gravestones,” is arguably the most memorable track. The piano sample of one of Ludwig van Beethoven’s sonatas along with Joseph’s dramatic vocal range gives this song an eerie, haunting sound, but what resonates the most is its lyrical content. Within this song, Joseph breaks down how society glorifies those that die by suicide, making people numb to the issue and make them focus solely on their deaths instead of their lives: “Don’t get me wrong, the rise in awareness/ Is beating a stigma that no longer scares us/ But for sake of discussion, in spirit of fairness/ Could we give this some room for a new point of view?” With that, Joseph proposes an alternative — to glorify one’s life instead of their death, singing, “Pay some respect to the path that they paved/ To life, they were dedicated/ Now, that should be celebrated.”

Despite the group’s development in its lyrics and its sound, the melody in the chorus of “The Hype” sounds like a rip-off of Oasis’s “Wonderwall,” while the drumbeat and high-pitched vocals in “Chlorine” is almost similar to that of its “Blurryface” hit, “Stressed Out.” And while “Legend” is a loving way of honoring Joseph’s grandfather, the band’s usual blend of depressing lyrics with upbeat melodies did not quite fit with this song.

These flaws, however, are only minor. “Trench” proves to be an epic return for Twenty One Pilots — the band expands on its varying sound and poetic lyrics without fear of “selling out” to mainstream media. The diverse duo shows that although the songs on this LP may not have hit the Billboard charts yet, they are the real deal — and they’re here to stay.