It’s finally here…
Trench, the highly anticipated fifth album from musical duo Twenty Øne Piløts, was finally released to the public at 12:00 AM on October 5th, 2018. Despite the entire album being leaked by a fan just days before, Trench currently sits on top of charts all over the globe. I have to admit, I was a little bit apprehensive about this one. While the band’s previous hit LP Blurryface was in fact a concept album, you could listen to it and understand most of it without having to dig into the background ‘lore’ surrounding the Blurryface character. However, Trench, before its release, was shown to be even more concept heavy, with some of the singles, especially ‘Nico and the Niners’, rendered almost unintelligible unless you knew all of the background info. While the idea of a concept album sounds super cool, in practice I doubted that it would work well, either from a commercial or an artistic standpoint. Whatever meaning the album’s first three singles had was tied up tightly in a bundle of metaphors and lore, and remained totally obscure to many listeners.
I was delighted to find on listening to the album as a whole that, while you can interpret it through the lens of the concept, the majority of the songs stand on their own as gorgeous pieces of lyrical and musical art. Trench has a slower, heavier feel to it than previous albums, and while every song sounds totally different, they all act as a cohesive unit and bring a unique feel to the album as a whole. It is interesting to see how singer/pianist/bassist/ukulele player/songwriter Tyler Joseph writes from a place of worldwide fame. In fact, one of the major themes of this album is the immense pressure Tyler feels from becoming so famous, mostly pressure from his fans, the Skeleton Clique. This album seems to have been written very much with the Clique in mind, and the marketing for Trench has been very much structured around pandering to them as well. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, I do think it could isolate a lot of potential new listeners, and I certainly hope that this kind of pandering doesn’t become a feature of any future Tøp music.
As with all of Tøp’s records, Trench is multilayered and extremely complex. There are multiple different lenses through which you can view the songs and lyrics, and each song has at least two interpretations, depending on whether you’re listening for the Dema storyline or for Tyler’s own internal struggle, which are inextricably intertwined throughout the entire album. I could do a whole series of posts exploring in depth what each song means, but for now I’ll just do a quick look at the two heaviest, most hard-hitting songs off the album (why do I do this to myself???), and leave the rest to the lyric theorists out there.
‘Neon Gravestones’ is a piano ballad featuring Tyler’s signature poetic rap verses. Tyler uses this song to address several heavy issues, but a major theme is the fact that even though he supposedly ‘has everything’ (fame, fortune, a loving family and fanbase) he is still fighting with depression and suicidal thoughts. But he also uses the song to address the people who get the wrong impression from Twenty One Pilots’ music. Since their very first album, and even before, when Tyler was just writing and recording songs by himself, mental health and the struggle against mental illness has been a huge part of Twenty One Pilots’ lyrics and message. Some people have taken the songs out of context, or twisted the messages in them, to claim that the band glorifies or even encourages suicide and depression, which is simply not the case. Tyler digs deep into that issue in this song, and completely refutes it. It’s an extremely powerful message, and Tyler delivers it perfectly.
For some more in depth explanations, check out:
- Choosing Life: Twenty One Pilots Avoid the Glow of Neon Gravestones (from Alternative Press)
- Lyric Interpretation of “Neon Gravestones” (From S. M. Metzler’s blog)
- Is “Neon Gravestones” About Suicide? (Video Explanation from The Pop Song Professor)
‘Leave The City’ is the final song on Trench. As with all Tøp albums, the final song is a bittersweet farewell, with this one leaning much more bitter than sweet. It’s extremely easy to look at this song as the band telling us they’re breaking up, and that’s what I thought at first. But Tyler himself has admitted that this is a song about struggling with, and loosing, faith. This is not new territory for Tyler’s songwriting. In the first song off Twenty One Pilots’ first album, an emotional piece called “Implicit Demand for Proof”, Tyler wrestles with God and with his faith, trying to reconcile it with his depression, asking God if he will “rain down and destroy” him. It seems that Twenty One Pilots’ newfound fame has resonated through every part of Tyler’s life, including his faith, and right now he is struggling. He hasn’t lost hope, he hasn’t given up on believing in God, but he is definitely wrestling with doubt.
If you’re interested in hearing what Tyler himself has to say about this difficult song, please check out this interview from Alternative Press.
There is so much more I could say about Trench, but it would take far too long. I am definitely pleased with the album. It broke my expectations, but in a wonderful way. Twenty One Pilots may have swapped out their reggae influences for a more chill vibe, but at the core they’re still the same musical duo, and I can’t wait to see where their music takes them next.
Final Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
“You know I had to do it.”
Thank you so much for reading this (late) review! I’ve been struggling with being consistent and intentional on social media recently, especially with blogging and reading /responding to other people’s blogs, and I’m definitely going to try to pick that up again and make it part of my life. I just need to sit down and make the time.
See you again soon!