Archive for the ‘2018 music’ Category

I didn’t want to like this band. I assumed they were hollow mega-stars like all the pop musicians you see on TMZ (two of them start with a K).

Boy, was I wrong. I got into Vessel and Blurryface only a few months ago, purely out of curiosity.

The thing that struck me was how dark their tunes were, yet so full of hope. It reminded me of My Chemical Romance, my favorite band since 2006.

I began to explore the concept and themes of Blurryface, which is also strikingly similar to My Chem’s The Black Parade, both by being a concept record and by having songs that switch out joy and nihilism at the drop of a hat.

As the fans know, the Blurryface character represents inner demons and insecurities – being afraid to create art, afraid to advance in a career, afraid of relationships, afraid of who you are – “My name’s Blurryface, and I care what you think.”

Though a character from a different album, Blurryface sets the stage for the Twenty One Pilots’ latest effort, Trench. On this record, the name of insecurity – Blurryface, remember – seems to have been swapped for Nicolas Bourbaki, a name the Pilots borrowed from an historical pseudonym for a group of French mathematicians who, among other things, tried to prove the existence of God mathematically.

Also known as Nico, this strange being with a face of pale and a cloak of red leads a group of 9 “Bishops” – characters referenced on the Blurryface record – that seek to control the population through depression and a religion called vialism, which worships neon colors within glass and gravestones (a metaphor for the glitz and glamour of fame, suicide, and the conflict that some sufferers of depression find addictive).

This group chases a man named Clancy – front man Tyler Joseph’s new persona – through a land called Dema, which is basically depression incarnated as a city. Throughout the album, Clancy must put on his “Jumpsuit.” This enigmatic attire is a form of protection symbolized by yellow, a color the Bishops can’t see.

To manifest the Jumpsuit, Clancy must struggle to make his art, his main weapon against the darkness (“Let there be light” “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not comprehend”). He also seeks help from the Banditos, a group of people that symbolize Joseph’s loved ones.

That’s the concept behind Trench. Confusing? Over-thought? Or brilliant? In my opinion, all three. The lyrical narrative flows effortlessly over thunderous bass, chill ukulele, occasional guitar, groovy synth, and complex drum beats. On top of all this, the vocals are the best Joseph has ever offered us.

I used to prefer the insecure, unique vocals of No Phun Intended and Vessel, but sentiment is no substitute for confidence. Each melody and vocal line seems downright cocky. Joseph knows that his last Grammy award winning album was the first one in history to have every track go platinum. The confidence doesn’t come across as arrogant though, and the same goes for Josh Dun’s beats. It all comes across as a cohesive, completely self-actualized work of art.

Though the concept is quite tight, each song can still stand on its own. A few personal themes even show up without the guise of metaphor, such as in “Smithereens”, where Joseph croons about selling out and writing slick songs for his wife. No, I don’t think the band has really sold out, but he’s certainly kept up with modern day pop and transformed his indie sound to match (is selling out even real? Or do musicians grow, simply wanting to make tunes that sound, you know…good?)

The best songs are the deep ones. Underneath something like a digital guitar riff, “Morph” questions faith in God, and specifically the afterlife, with the juicy lyric “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.”

“Chlorine” uses the metaphor of a cleaning agent to discuss the difficulties of creating art, and “Neon Gravestones” cuts to the quick about our nation’s fascination with suicide. Tying in with the fictional vialism religion, and beneath haunting piano reminiscent of the Pilots’ self-titled LP, Joseph encourages the listener to continue living and resist the urge to self-harm for fame or attention.

“Neon Gravestones try to call for my bones – but they won’t get ’em.”

Some songs on Trench directly connect with past Twenty One Pilots albums. “Levitate” borrows lyrics from “Car Radio”, and “Nico and the Niners” spouts the lyric “Dema won’t control us.” While this is obviously a reference to the fictional Dema city of depression, it sounds almost like “demon”, which calls to mind “Ode to Sleep” and many other songs from past albums about overcoming personal demons.

That’s the main thing I like about Twenty One Pilots. Everything they do connects together – every song, every album, and it’s all very well constructed. Trench‘s album cover is a perfect example. The black vulture signifies  an ancient religion called Zoroastrianism, in which the bodies of Saints were fed to actual vultures. This, in turn, is a metaphor for the band’s music being picked apart by the public, and Joseph “feeding on death” through his lyrics about mental health.

While it doesn’t resonate with me emotionally in the same way as Vessel and No Phun Intended, Trench is without a doubt the best Twenty One Pilots record. It’s the smartest, the best written, the most visual, and the most sonically pleasing thing the band has ever done. It’s just not my heart’s favorite…purely for sentimental reasons.

If they do any better on the next album – a feat that seems impossible – the sheer awesomeness will likely make me faint.

10/10

(Still not as good as “Blasphemy” from No Phun Intended – again, purely for personal and emotional reasons)