Trench by Twenty One Pilots finds the band trying to evade their demons; Blue October’s ninth album isn’t as consistent or powerful as their long-time fans would have hoped; Cloud Nothings sound confident on Last Building Burning.
Artist: Twenty One Pilots
Twenty One Pilots’ conquest of the charts with 2015’s Blurryface may have surprised some, but in hindsight it’s easy to see why the rap rock duo found so much success with their fourth album. The genre-crossing set offered a creative take on pop with hip hop, rock, reggae, and electronic elements all put together, crafting a catchy sound that made their work easily enjoyable despite the material’s difficult underlying themes. But those who were hoping the band would return with a follow-up that simply stuck to the same parameters as their breakthrough will have to adjust their expectations when they listen to Trench.
While they retain their genre-blending tendencies, the American group moves into a somewhat less pop-friendly direction on their fifth record. The song structures generally rely on drum beats and synths, and there are still commercially accessible songs here like the highlights ‘My Blood’, ‘The Hype’, and ‘Legend’ but there is also more intensity, more weight.
Lyrically, there is a lot to unpack in these fourteen tunes. A concept album built around a cryptic narrative that will require an army of fans to decode - what’s that about a pet cheetah named Jason Statham? - Trench finds the band trying to evade their demons. It’s borderline impenetrable unless you pay close attention, a characteristic the record ends up turning into its strength - the more you listen, the more rewarding the experience becomes.
Written and produced by singer-rapper Tyler Joseph with Paul Meany of the alt rock group Mutemath, Trench may not be as immediately gratifying as Blurryface, but the more time you spend with it, the more captivating it becomes.
Highlights: ‘My Blood’, ‘The Hype’, ‘Bandito’, ‘Legend’
Artist: Cloud Nothings
Album: Last Building Burning***1/2
Since making their unassuming debut with an infectious self-titled offering in 2011, Dylan Baldi and his band Cloud Nothings have shed their lo-fi indie leanings and opted for a heavier sound. But while they may have taken a step away from the punk inspired power pop of their early days and moved towards more hardcore noise rock, they haven’t entirely lost the catchiness that first brought them to listeners’ attention.
Their fifth album, Last Building Burning, makes good use of the band’s marriage of the raucous and the tuneful. It may be more amplified than their last outing, but the result still remains accessible.
Created with the help of producer Randall Dunn (who often works with metal and experimental outfits), the record captures the energy of the American group’s live performances. But beneath Last Building Burning’s raspy vocals, abrasive guitars, and relentless drums, there is still an undercurrent of a pop melody, particularly on tracks like the instantly enjoyable ‘Leave Him Now’ and ‘In Shame’.
At the same time, though, Cloud Nothings haven’t shied away from treading into louder, rawer directions. The intense opener ‘On An Edge’ sees the band venturing into more hardcore grounds. And while most of the album’s eight songs hover between the 3 and 4 minute mark, the group seem to have channelled all their leftover experimental desires into one nearly 11-minute long track, ‘Dissolution’, much of it made up of extended instrumental solos akin to a jam session.
Cloud Nothings sound confident on Last Building Burning, which is mostly a fun, often interesting listen even if this short collection may not always be as distinctive as the band would have hoped.
Highlights: ‘Leave Him Now’, ‘In Shame’, ‘Dissolution’
Artist: Blue October
Album: I Hope You’re Happy***
There is something a bit discordant about Blue October’s latest album, I Hope You’re Happy. The band clearly doesn’t want to be bound by a genre, and to be fair they have made good use of their vast musical palette in the past. Their ability to seamlessly go from snarling about their troubles to crooning a touching duet with Imogen Heap was one of the reasons why their breakthrough album Foiled (2006) was such an interesting alternative rock piece. But their new set isn’t quite as satisfying as the release that put them on the map more than a decade ago.
I Hope You’re Happy is a less raucous, more pop-oriented affair, and thematically it’s less dark and generally more positive. Sure, he still has moments of frustration or self-doubt (‘Daylight’, ‘I Wanna Come Back Home’), but singer and producer Justin Furstenfeld’s song-writing doesn’t feel as bleak or raw here. He goes as far as offering nothing but good wishes to his ex on the upbeat title track ‘I Hope You’re Happy’ (which almost feels like a thematic companion to the more mellow ‘Congratulations’ off Foiled).
The sentiments aren’t as wrenching as they were in their earlier work and the variety of styles employed don’t work quite as well. When you sound like Imagine Dragons (‘Daylight’) one minute and Phil Collins (‘I Wanna Come Back Home’) the next, the ultimate result isn’t as riveting as it is confusing.
Blue October’s ninth album has quite a few enjoyable moments, but overall it isn’t as consistent or powerful as their long-time fans would have hoped.
Highlights: ‘I Hope You’re Happy’, ‘Colors Collide’, ‘Let Forever Mean Forever’