Twenty One Pilots

Trench

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Advancing the narrative started on their 2015 breakthrough, Blurryface, Ohio duo Twenty One Pilots continue the struggle with personal demons, diving deep into the darkness of the Trench and battling fresh enemies wrought from their newfound fame and fortune. The results are less carefree or pop-friendly, and instead comprise an engrossing conceptual journey that demands full attention, especially considering the album's underlying mythology. Dark and intense, it's a gift to dedicated fans, a theory-packed, multi-media puzzle for those interested in delving into a rich story occupied by symbolic entities like Dema, the journal-writing Clancy, the mysterious Nico, and the nine bishops from the Blurryface days. It's a heady maze, but a subtle nod to diehards in their so-called Skeleton Clique. Sonically -- while their trademark cross-genre, dub-influenced sounds remain -- TOP expand their reach with some fresh tricks, sprinkling surprises such as Tyler Joseph's falsetto into the R&B-washed "Morph" and the funky "My Blood"; a horn section on "Legend"; and bright digital synths to second-half highlights "The Hype," "Cut My Lip," and "Bandito." Atop Josh Dun's precision backing, Joseph's flow is in top form, winding breathlessly on the hypnotic "Levitate" and the tortured examination on suicide in the modern age, "Neon Gravestones." The latter track contains some of the best lyrics on Trench, making fine use of TOP's position to reach listeners with a supportive and urgent message. Emotional album-closer "Leave the City" extends that theme, with Joseph pushing through the inner darkness as he concludes, "In time I will leave the city/For now I will stay alive." It's a powerful moment, both distressing and inspirational all at once. Through these layers of angst and despair, Joseph and Dun manage to fend off the circling vultures -- like the one on the album cover -- offering a glimmer of hope that should resonate with listeners. Although Trench requires a few spins to really register, it's ultimately rewarding and fully immersive, delivering a depth and gravity at which Twenty One Pilots only hinted on Blurryface.

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