It’s hard to believe that it was now a solid five years ago that my friends and I were driving through downtown Kansas City and they showed me this song called “Car Radio” by the musical duo Twenty One Pilots, made up of lead-singer Tyler Joseph and drummer Josh Dun.
I didn’t like how it sounded, and at the time I couldn’t stand Joseph’s voice. He sounded sick and nasally to me. However, I was intrigued by his ideas. It was very thought-provoking.
A couple years later, the album “Blurryface” dropped and their music started to grow on me a little more. “Stressed Out” was such an honest, open track, and I enjoyed the percussion combined with that creepy space sound. Not to mention the interesting lyrics they had on the soundtrack of Suicide Squad, “All my friends are heathens, take it slow. Wait for them to ask you who you know.”
Last week, I gave their new album “Trench” a try. I was hooked by the first song.
The record starts off with a banger, “Jumpsuit.” When I listened to it, and watched a video of the duo performing it, I was reminded of bands such as Nirvana and Aerosmith that pour all of their energy into a performance and song. Joseph is clearing screaming about something he has felt deeply and emotionally, perhaps the pressure of fame from “Blurryface.” The song features a heavy bass-line with his screaming voice and also a slow part with piano and soft singing.
The first few songs flow together, bringing the listener to “Morph,” the hit from the album. On this track, Joseph is considering death itself, and the fact that there seems to be no way past it. He sees three options: above, under and around. He explains why each of them is faulty in their own way. Hinting to his Christianity, he chooses above, and he address issues he sees or did see in his own worldview. To escape his treacherous thoughts, he sometimes acts like he is someone else who doesn’t care, or “morphs.” I appreciate the duo’s vulnerability and boldness as they are willing to use their platform to start hard conversations.
Later on, Joseph introduces an idea with a more mellow song for a somber topic, “Neon Gravestones.” The track addresses glorification of suicide in our culture. He invites the listener to a place he feels like he is often, “the bottom, underneath the insane asylum.” Sympathy, empathy and praise are given to celebrities who commit suicide. Their fans feel horrible for them at the image of chaos and hell that must have been in their heads.
He thinks suicide is now thought of a way to go out with a bang. The issues in the head go away, and the fans just love them more. Not a bad deal, right? Well, as Joseph says, “no.” Rather, he believes this idea needs to stop being glorified in our culture and encourages his listeners to, “Find your grandparents or someone of age. Pay some respects for the path that they paved. To life, they were dedicated. Now, that should be celebrated.” This is a solid message and one that needs to be heard. Life is worth living, and those of age might know why.
In “Pet Cheetah,” the duo uses a synthesizer and a drum set to describe Joseph’s difficulty in writing music. Much like “Stressed Out” from “Blurryface,” Joseph once again says how frustrating it can be to make new songs. He constantly feels pressure, keeps finding problems in his work and wants more time to make the music. The pet cheetah in his basement is the part of him that contrasts with this. The cheetah wants to move quickly, and get more music done. This is ingeniously illustrated with the music. When he says he wants to slow down, the music slows down. When he says he wants to speed up, the music speeds up.
The album ends with a song called “Leave the City,” in which Joseph explains a dying fire. It’s hard to know what this fire is. Maybe it’s his creativity? Maybe it’s his fame? Maybe it’s life itself? However, he says, “In time, I will leave the city. For now, I will stay alive.” Whatever the flame is, Joseph has decided to keep doing what he is doing.
“Trench” uses a variety of styles from rock, rap and a man-with-a-piano to manifest a deep struggle in the artist’s mind. The album is vulnerable, clear and very well-done. While I always found the duo interesting, and thought highly of them, it was this album that converted me into a fan of their music.
I am very grateful Joseph has decided to keep on this path, especially if Twenty One Pilots keeps making music like this.
Peter Loganbill is a junior in mass communications. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Collegian. Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.