I’ve discovered Twenty One Pilots more than 3 years ago, but somehow I’ve associated them with similar indie pop rock acts like The 1975, but with a hint of SoundCloud edgy rap that seems to be so popular nowadays.
But even as I started discovering he depth of their lyrics and the meaning behind them, all the stories about love and lost, despair, depression, anxiety, struggles with mental health – everything seemed either a really well curated image or a very sincere outlook into someone’s life.
The duo consists of the sometimes lyrical genius that is Tyler Joseph and drummer Josh Dun, but make no mistake – however small, the group manages to paint realistic pictures of how much of our lives is struggling to get past today.
Trench, their latest album, released in October 2018, explores mental health, suicide and doubt, continuing with similar themes the band touched before with their previous releases. The band benefits from a solid fan base and a relationship with them that is both extraordinary and scary, as they communicate with them the meanings of songs, the process of writing all of this, fictional themes and characters and even cities built around their work, and fans not only engage in this, but they perpetuate this knowledge, without the usual elite-ness that comes from having inside information on something that no one else knows.
Trench debuts with Jumpsuit, which was also the lead single of the new album. Signifying his fight with doubt and societal pressure, Joseph’s lyrics are pretty self explanatory, showing vulnerability and fright and insecurities, and I think that this is what Twenty One Pilots does best – showing their true self to anyone that bothers listening, and comforting them and letting them know that it’s ok to be scared and alone.
Musically, Jumpsuit is actually a hard rock composition, with heavy bass lines and with Joseph’s voice going from soft whispers to heavy screams and his signature falsetto.
Levitate, although a bit too minimalist and seemingly simplistic in composition, picks up from Jumpsuit left off, referencing another fan favorite, Car Radio. Joseph’s rapping combined with Dun’s drumming makes this song seem primal, but at the same time, it bears the signature of both of them.
Morph, which can only be described as a philosopher’s train of thoughts about life, death and afterlife, is scarily depressing, as it echoes thoughts that most of us had at some point or another. Tyler Joseph is known for his sincerity in his approach to mental health and how much he cares for the well being of their fan base, so I’m guessing that most of them will recognize themselves in the bleak lyrics.
I’m surrounded and I’m hounded
There’s no „above”, or „under”, or „around” it
For „above” is blind belief and „under” is sword to sleeve
And „around” is scientific miracle, let’s pick „above” and see
For if and when we go „above”, the question still remains
Are we still in love and is it possible we feel the same?
And that’s when going „under” starts to take my wonder
But until that time
I’ll morph to someone else, I’m just a ghost
My personal favorite, My Blood, is about being loyal, loving and supporting someone that goes through the darkest of times. It helps that the video also makes a connection with mental health issues, supporting the theory that the band is really open in breaking down barriers and stereotypes.
If there comes a day
People posted up at the end of your driveway
They’re callin’ for your head and they’re callin’ for your name
I’ll bomb down on ‘em, I’m comin’ through
Do they know I was grown with you?
If they’re here to smoke, know I’ll go with you
Just keep it outside, keep it outside, yeah
Chlorine was one of the songs I thought I was actively avoiding, only to find out that I was actually loving and knowing by heart. Taken literally, the chemical compound is known for its primary use as an agent in bleaches and disinfectants, and the metaphor of the song is to have an anchor in your life that helps you purge away all the dark thoughts.
Sippin’ on straight chlorine, let the vibes slide over me
This beat is a chemical, beat is a chemical
When I leave don’t save my seat, I’ll be back when it’s all complete
The moment is medical, moment is medical
Sippin’ on straight chlorine
And because an ode to love was needed, Smithereens has its place on this record about feelings and thoughts. Dedicated to Tyler Joseph’s wife, the song is translating into plain words whatever is happening in Joseph’s heart, and it’s sweet and cheesy and amazing all at once.
Dealing with suicide and the glorification treatment in the media, Neon Gravestones is a slow burning rap song that feels blaming, but justifying it at the same time. With a very conflicting message, you can feel the indecision in Tyler Joseph’s rap, and if one verse you agree to something, the next one will find you agreeing with something completely different.
And that’s the beauty of Twenty One Pilots – everything is ok, you don’t get judged, you don’t get stigmatized. It’s like all they ask of you is to get better…
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?
And, could it be true that some could be tempted
To use this mistake as a form of aggression?
A form of succession?
A form of a weapon?
Thinking „I’ll teach them”
Well, I’m refusing the lesson
It won’t resonate in our minds
I’m not disrespecting what was left behind
Just pleading that „it” does not get glorified
Maybe we swap out what it is that we hold so high
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
The Hype is such simple music, it’s really hard to explain it. Being so straightforward, about the different way we experience our internal standards versus whatever the others are expecting from us, it’s a reminder to slow down and stop being so hard on ourselves.
Following the universe built by Joseph, Nico and the Niners, based in part on the Nicolas Bourbaki legend, which was actually a group of 9 mathematicians, and continuing old themes explored by the group, such as the jumpsuit, Dema and the bishops, is a rap song about resisting organized religion and finding your own way.
What I say when I want to be enough
What a beautiful day for making a break for it
We’ll find a way to pay for it
Maybe from all the money we made razor-blade stores
Rent a race horse and force a sponsor
And start a concert, a complete diversion
Start a mob and you can be quite certain
We’ll win but not everyone will get out
Probably the most optimistic song, lyrically wise, Cut My Lip talks about going through hard times, even if you feel beaten down. A simple, slow burner as well, but really uplifting.
Bandito is a ethereal song that connects to the themes of the album – leaving Dema, accepting your fate, trying to become someone else, trying to find purpose in creativity and human connection.
I created this world
To feel some control
Destroy it if I want
So I sing someone
For me, the most forgettable song is Pet Cheetah. Apparently about overcoming writer’s block, the song is a weird mixture of rap, techno and rock, a bit of forcibly pretentious without much substance. Much like writer’s block, I presume.
Legend is another love song, albeit this time is for Joseph’s grandfather, who passed away this year. Forever connecting this song to my own personal troubled times, it’s an uplifting way to cope with such loss.
Then the day that it happened
I recorded this last bit
I look forward to having
A lunch with you again
My other personal favorite, Leave the City, talks about suicide and maybe leaving behind things that you have no control over, or things that you don’t feel connected to anymore. It talks about lost battles, about lost human connections, lost faith, lost minds. It’s such a simple song, but so heavy on my heart…
In time, I will leave the city
For now, I will stay alive
I needed change of pace
Couldn’t take the pace of change
But this year
Though I’m far from home
In TRENCH I’m not alone
These faces facing me