Fueled by Ramen
I recently heard the new Twenty One Pilots album, and I enjoyed it quite a bit more than I expected.
Twenty-One pilots is an Ohio based pop duo consisting of frontman and vocalist Tyler Joseph and drummer Josh Dun. In their 10 years of existence, their unique blend of rap, indie, emo-pop, and alternative has struck a chord with listeners, as their previous album, 2015’s “Blurryface,” debuted at number one and proceeded to sell 143,000 copies with every song being RIAA certified gold.
My previous experiences with the duo have been largely negative leading up to this. Their major label debut, 2013’s Vessel, was a poorly mixed, tacky, and migraine-inducing, fusion of EDM and pop-rap. It’s follow up, “Blurryface” has a few solid pop hits that save it from being as worthless as its predecessor, but, ultimately, it delves into obnoxious self-indulgence. It’s not as grating as Vessel, but it comes close. Because of these mixed experiences, I was apprehensive coming into their latest album “Trench.” However, Twenty One Pilots manage to put together a solid project that improves on almost every front.
Sonically, this is most definitely a step up from their previous efforts and shows tremendous growth for the duo. Twenty-one pilots standard genre-bending mannerisms are done a lot more tastefully than previous LP’s, pulling from an even wider variety of genres on this album. The standard influences of indietronica (in “Bandito” and “Chlorine”), hip-hop (“Levitate”), piano-pop (“Neon Gravestones,”) and reggae(“Cut my Lip” and “Nico and The Niners”) are given more attention and care, and Twenty One Pilots manage to tackle these genres much more effectively. Additionally, Twenty One Pilots explore completely new genres fairly successfully as well like disco (“My Blood”) and downtempo (“Morph”).
The production here also receives a boost. While at times the mix can have a lot going on, each piece of instrumentation is given room to breathe and allows the album to sound earthy and natural despite having quite a bit of electronic instrumentation. Huge props to Mutemath’s Paul Meany for handling a lot of the production on this album.
My biggest issue with “Trench” is that a lot of this album is filler, not necessarily bad, but just sort of forgettable. Songs like “Legend” and “Bandito” as well as the underwhelming closer “Leave the City” don’t really do much other than pad the album. For every unique and interesting song on this album, there are at least 2 middling songs. Additionally, the album is pretty front-loaded, as once you get past “Chlorine” there’s really no exceptional songs besides “Nico and the Niners” and “The Hype.” It never really falls off in quality, it just sort of stagnates until the 56-minute runtime is over.
The lyrical content on here, while improved, is also a big issue on here. A few songs like the “Morph” and “Levitate” have quite a bit interesting to say, and I enjoy how Tyler Joseph tried to tie together a narrative with these songs. Unfortunately, a lot of the lyrical content feels very forced and cheesy. Songs like “Smithereens,” “Legend,” and especially “Pet Cheetah” offer a veritable buffet of lyrical cliches, with not much in the way of poignancy or depth.
Despite these issues, “Trench” is most definitely Twenty One Pilots best effort to date and a marked improvement from their previous releases. It’s nowhere close to perfect, but it’s definitely worth a listen.
Best tracks: “Levitate,” “My Blood,” and “Morph.”
Worst tracks: “Smithereens,” “Jumpsuit,” and “Pet Cheetah.”
Rating: [star rating=”3″]