While self-producing an album may often serve as a last resort litmus test when pop artist stans get at each other in a prolonged Twitter fight, there is true merit in congratulating a work when it has been self-produced, when an artist has taken their own time to construct (on their own) what they are bringing to the next era of their career.
This is no exception with twenty one pilots' "Trench."
Produced by the duo as well as their friend and fellow musician, Paul Meany, "Trench" is a powerhouse of a concept album that could easily be named the best project of 2018.
First off, after the incredible, commercial success of "Blurryface," any normal artist would go to the studio in hopes of replicating the success, to capitalize off the new found, Grammy award-winning popularity.
And while "Trench" has been stated by the band to be a sequel to "Blurryface," it is anything but a cash grab. From a narrative perspective, the project is a concept album, telling one overarching story from the first track to the last. It has multiple setting, antagonists...this is truly twenty one pilots' "Lord of the Rings." While this narrative scale isn't impossible on a traditional, chart-eyeing pop record, it is far from usual. The band takes the expectation of replicating Billboard success and turns it on its head.
Additionally, the album, while very conceptual and story driven, proves itself to be accessible to those who aren't invested in the overarching epic narrative. Songs like "Morph," "Chlorine," and "Nico and the Niners" all are engrossed and invested in the "Trench" story, yet feature catchy production and lyrical qualities that allow them to transcend the album as a package. From R&B to pop to reggae, these tracks (among others) invite the listener into a singular, emotional experience, one that builds the world and conflict brewing in "Trench," yet never isolates the listener who hasn't listened to every track or read up on the album's backstory.
But a final ingredient makes this album not just soar above its contemporary competition, but above its predecessor: cohesiveness in sound. Fan favorite 21P track "Vessel" is famous for this: its synth-coated pop-rap is a signature style and sound for the album, while "Blurryface" follows it up with a more disjointed, genre-hopping approach, jumping from texture to texture with different producers for nearly every segment of its tracklisting.
"Trench" streamlines the process, and therefore returns back to that classic twenty one pilots approach: there is diversity in sound and style, but a unifying cohesion to the project as a whole. The different styles and elements of the tracks serve as expanding the sonic landscape of the album, rather than exploring entirely different dimensions of the world being built.
All of this is important because of this single fact: twenty one pilots is a phenomenon that is not going anywhere anytime soon. The boys have dropped a project that most certainly will get them a Grammy nod next year, but most importantly secures their fanbase and wins critics over with a timeless, inspired album that comes right from the heart of those who produced it. What better album could encapsulate 2018?