Music

Review: A Track-by-Track Analysis of Twenty One Pilots’ ‘Trench’

Alternative rock duo Twenty One Pilots resurfaced in the music industry after a year-long hiatus of silence, coming back strong with their fifth studio album, Trench.

The duo, consisting of lead singer and songwriter Tyler Joseph and drummer Josh Dun, began to tease the album to their fans with cryptic messages from a website called dmaorg.org.

The story of this new album surpassed their last album, Blurryface, which told of a character who represented Joseph’s and Dun’s insecurities. This time, the pair sets up a literal story of a place called Dema, which interpretively represents their own mental illnesses and struggles with society. It centers on a character named Clancy, who wrote the letters featured on the website, and wishes of rebellion and escape from Dema.

The band was inspired to create Dema, which means “Tower of Silence,” from a concept from the Zoroastrianism religion. This was a fictional place within the religion where dead bodies were disposed of to be eaten by vultures. In an interview on Reddit, the band expressed how they were inspired by “the sad and intriguing concept of a dying religion… the reason it was dying was something they could never control: The lack of the vultures needed to carry out their theology. Something so natural and logical can get in the way of your religion.”

In their album-interpretation of the idea, the city is run by nine bishops, all of whom are unable to see the color yellow. The group of nine is headed by Nico, referenced throughout the album and who Joseph said is an embodiment of the past album’s character, Blurryface. On the other hand, the rebel protagonist Clancy joins people who call themselves the Banditos, other rebels who want to fight and escape Dema. In accordance with Dema’s symbolizing of mental illness, Banditos can be connected to the band’s fans and others who have related to having these problems.

The album consists of fourteen tracks, many contributing to the plot that Twenty One Pilots sets up.

Jumpsuit

The first song on the album, “Jumpsuit,” was also the first single released from Trench. The song is an introduction to Clancy, who is written as sporting a yellow jumpsuit in order to conceal his escape from the bishops who control Dema. Joseph and Dun display this concept visually in the music video for the song, where Joseph, adorned in yellow, is running from a hooded figure on a horse, who is representative of the Blurryface character and the era they were transitioning from. Just as Joseph is about to give in to Blurryface and his insecurities, other anonymous people, later to be identified as people including Dun and Joseph’s wife, Jenna, begin to throw yellow flower petals from atop the hill at which they watch. This action distracts Blurryface and gives Joseph time to run away from the evils that the character represents, in accordance with the music picking up to a heavy rock.

Levitate

“Levitate” is the second song on the album, where the ending of “Jumpsuit” merges into its beginning and is the first to feature the rapping that Joseph is known for. However, it was the third single to be released, following “Nico and the Niners,” and is the third installment to the story of Dema. Joseph discusses his battle with his own mental illnesses, following the analogy of Dema and the Banditos. With lyrics such as, “You can learn to levitate with just a little help,” Joseph is describing how, with help, he was rising from his depression and sufferings. In the music video, which is the final (presumably) issue of the Trench story, Joseph is seen being taken from the Banditos who gave him hope, ending back where he started in the clutches of Nico and Dema. This idea comments heavily on mental illness, and how no matter how much he tries to escape his depression, he somehow always finds himself stuck back in it.

Morph

The third song on the album, “Morph,” takes a drastically more upbeat approach sound-wise. Despite its smooth and chill vibes, Joseph and Dun still tackle a heavy message: the contemplation of life and death. Joseph analyzes different takes on life and death and how these ideas affect his own beliefs. He goes on to acknowledge his struggles within his life, and wonders if there is a point to all he is going through and if there is a relief of Heaven after he goes through all of it.

Can’t stop thinking about if and when I die for it

Now I see that “if” and “when” are truly different cries

For “if” is purely panic and “when” is solemn sorrow

And one invades today while the other spies tomorrow

My Blood

The fourth track is titled “My Blood,” and was also the fourth single released, preceding the album’s release. The song has a disco-esque feel to it, with falsettos and music that one simply cannot resist moving to. There are multiple, popular interpretations of this song, but the moral of it is about loyalty. Joseph is singing to someone (the “who” is speculated,) and promising that no matter what, he will accompany that person into whatever problems they face. Essentially, Joseph refers to the subject of his song as his “blood,” implying a direct familial tie or a sense of family within that person.

Chlorine

Following the upbeat pattern, “Chlorine” is a danceable track in which Joseph compares music to chlorine, a chemical that eliminates unwanted substances. In this analogy, his music helps him cleanse himself of his mental health struggles—something that many of his listeners can relate to as well.

Smithereens

The sixth track of Trench finally embraces its happy and fast tone in its lyrics. “Smithereens” is a fun song dedicated to Tyler Joseph’s wife, Jenna. The song talks of his unfaltering devotion to his wife, and how he would have her back in any kind of situation—even if that includes “stepping to a dude” much bigger than him and getting beaten to smithereens. He even lightly comments on the predictability of the song’s presence, singing, “You know I had to do one on the record for her like this.”

Neon Gravestones

In a drastic contrast, “Neon Gravestones,” the next track, is perhaps the album’s most somber song. It embraces its sad and dreary tone as Joseph discusses suicide and the glorification of it in pop culture and society. He plays on the idea of “neon lights,” with celebrities names up in lights and using vibrant colors to grab people’s attention, by applying this idea to suicide. He acknowledges that if he gave in to his suicidal thoughts and died, he would get a lot more attention than from when he was alive. But he also acknowledges how he wouldn’t want his own suicide to be glorified, and that instead of glorifying deaths, we as a society should be helping the mentally ill.

Promise me this

If I lose to myself

You won’t mourn a day

And you’ll move onto someone else

The Hype

“The Hype” highlights Joseph’s ukulele skills in an alternative rock, Oasis-sounding track about his younger self. Joseph, as he told Coup de Main Magazine, wrote in this song about internal pressures that one feels within themselves as well as external pressures from the world around them. In the song, he continuously reminds both his past self and the listener, “You’ll be just fine.”  He described the lyrics as “just an encouragement to keep going, to let things roll off your back that deserve to be put aside.”

Nico and the Niners

“Nico and the Niners,” coincidentally the ninth track, follows the story of Dema once more, being the second single off the album and the second installment of the music video trilogy. It is upbeat with dark undertones, the ultimate collaboration of reggae and rap. The song is named after the bishops that run Dema, as aforementioned, and acts as a rallying cry for the Banditos rebelling against Dema.

Cut My Lip

“Cut My Lip” is a positive song where Joseph emphasizes his determination to get through his struggles no matter what. The tenth track has reggae vibes similar to their hit single, “Ride.”

Though I am bruised, face of contusions

Know I’ll keep movin’

Bandito

The eleventh track of the album, “Bandito,” is another direct reference to the Dema plot that is constructed within the album. The song defines the protagonist Clancy’s acceptance of his role as a Bandito and his dedication to the act of escaping his perils. Joseph, in the song, acknowledges his creation of the world within Trench to feel some control. He then follows with the battle cry of “Sahlo Folina,” or, as they describe, “what we call out in Trench when we are in need.” There are two main theories of the meaning of these words: Sahlo Folina could be an anagram, as it spells out “all Ohio fans,” and may act as a nod to their hometown. Others found that “Sahlo” means ‘enable’ in Somali, and that Folina is a name with the meaning of, essentially, creativity, thus making the phrase, “enable creativity.”

Pet Cheetah

The metaphor of “Pet Cheetah” is, perhaps, a little more obscure than those of the other songs. The track is an impossibly upbeat song, mixing rap, techno, and rock into a song that transitions from slower rock to fast-paced rap. In it, Tyler Joseph writes about his writer’s block, comparing himself to a cheetah, moving a little too fast. He wants to make sure that all of his songs are perfect, which can create a block in the writing and producing process.

This clique means so much to this dude

It could make him afraid of his music

And be scared to death he could lose it

Legend

“Legend” completely displays Twenty One Pilots’s tendency to match fun tunes to devastatingly sad lyrics. The song serves as a tribute to Joseph’s grandfather, who passed away this March due to complications with Alzheimer’s. It is an impossibly sad and honest song, where Tyler admits to not being able to visit his sick grandfather because he did not know how to handle his grandfather not knowing him. He creatively describes his grandfather as his “middle name” (where the namesake ‘Robert’ comes from,) and additionally, as “one of those classic ones,” and “a legend.”

Then the day that it happened, I recorded this last bit

I look forward to having a lunch with you again

Leave The City

The final track of the album is a slow rock song, accompanied by soft piano and an epic drum build-up and fulfills the band’s pattern of ending an album with a slow and honest song. Joseph refers once more to the city of Dema, where he explains that even if he didn’t successfully escape the city (or his depressive thoughts), in time, he will. He also addresses their tour work: they’re moving from era to era and needed a break, but he knows that the fans understand that and everything he said in the album.

Last year I needed change of pace

Couldn’t take the pace of change

Moving hastily

But this year, though I’m far from home

In Trench I’m not alone

This album, though it was released just recently, has already helped myself, and many others, through our own struggles in life. Its brutal honesty, comfort, and love reaches out and touches each and every listener.

In Trench we’re not alone.

On behalf of myself and all of the other members of the clique:

Tyler and Josh, thank you.

Photo: Brad Heaton

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