Catchy choruses and somber songwriting reign supreme on “Trench,” the new album from pop duo Twenty One Pilots. Singer, songwriter and producer Tyler Joseph and drummer Josh Dun gained a following and moderate commercial success with their 2013 album “Vessel,” but rose to mainstream prominence in 2015 after the band received massive radio play with singles like “Stressed Out” and “Ride.” These songs both appeared on Twenty One Pilots’ album “Blurryface,” which reached number one on the Billboard 200 chart and has spent 177 weeks on it.

Unfortunately, commercial success is really all “Blurryface” had going for it. The album’s potpourri of genres made it feel unfocused and incoherent, and although the duo tackled some serious and meaningful topics like depression and self-harm, they often did so in a way that felt banal and even disingenuous. However, after hearing the singles that preceded this latest project, I grew hopeful that the band was taking their music a bit more seriously. Luckily it seems like they are, as “Trench” is an improvement on “Blurryface” in every conceivable way.

Lyrically, the album revisits a lot of the themes that have defined Twenty One Pilots’ music, especially loneliness and depression; however, these topics are now explored in a more mature and thoughtful way. The track that highlights this best is “Neon Gravestones,” on which Joseph sings about the glorification of artists who commit suicide and suggests that romanticizing this act has a harmful influence on people who suffer from depression. He even relates this to his own personal experiences with suicide contemplation.

“I could use the streams and extra conversations / I could give up, and boost up my reputation / I could go out with a bang / They would know my name / They would host and post a celebration,” he sings.

The album also features a loose concept based around a fictional city called Dema, which is ruled by nine bishops who exercise control over the populace with the religion “Vialism.” Although the concept is interesting, the duo doesn’t explore it all that much within the songs.  Only “Nico and the Niners” and “Bandito” focus entirely on the Vialism theme. The rest of the tracks either mention it only in passing or ignore it completely. Truthfully, it would have been better if Twenty One Pilots had abandoned the concept entirely, because the minimal snippets of information given about the story leave a lot to be desired.

The album kicks off with the single “Jumpsuit,” which is memorable for its chunky bassline and frenzied pre-chorus crescendos. It’s easily one of the most creatively produced songs the duo has released and leads off the project impeccably. “Levitate” sees Joseph spitting for nearly the entire track with one of the best flows he has ever demonstrated, complemented well by enticing drum patterns and an addictive beat.

Joseph’s falsetto on the chorus of “Morph” sounds excellent, and the track’s beautiful production makes up for its somewhat lackluster verses. The single “My Blood” is a definite standout as well, even if its lyrics aren’t all that remarkable. The instrumental on this track is reminiscent of the direction MGMT took on their latest release “Little Dark Age,” which is high praise for a modern synthpop song. “Chlorine” comes next, utilizing the titular chemical as a metaphor for substances that are equal parts harmful and cleansing. The distortion on Joseph’s vocals here is reminiscent of the group’s mega-hit “Stressed Out,” but the effect goes over a lot better this time around.

One of the album’s biggest pitfalls is that the second half is considerably weaker than the first. While songs like “The Hype,” “Pet Cheetah” and “Legend” are good, they don’t quite pack the punch that the first few tracks did. I was hoping that “Nico and the Niners” would grow on me when I listened to it within the context of the full album, but the vocals and reggae-pop production are still off-putting. “Leave The City” is a decent conclusion to “Trench,” but I wish the duo ended the album with more of a bang.

Joseph and Dun definitely still have some growing pains to get over, but with greatly improved production, more mature lyrics and catchier hooks, the duo took a massive step forward with “Trench.” Although the album still suffers from inconsistency, it feels like Twenty One Pilots put a lot of effort into this release. I commend them for resisting the inevitable urge to capitalize on their last album’s monumental success and just make “Blurryface 2.” A bit more refinement would go a long way for the band, but this is undoubtedly a big step in the right direction.

Grade: 3.5/5

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Aidan Vick (he/him) (22C) is from North Sioux City, South Dakota, majoring in English. He is in charge of making the Wheel’s crossword and newsletter and occasionally writes for the Arts & Entertainment and Sports sections. He enjoys indie music, basketball and chai tea.