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Welcome Back to Trench: A Look Toward Twenty One Pilots’ Upcoming Album, by Abby Adamson

Three weeks ago, Twenty One Pilots returned from a three-year hiatus with Overcompensate,” the lead single from their upcoming album, Clancy. With little to no promotion before release, fans everywhere were shocked at the release of new music, especially since the song and its corresponding music video include new pieces of the lore that Twenty One Pilots have been building since the end of the Blurryface era. In one day, the song amassed around 600,000 streams on Spotify alone, and it has since reached over 15 million listens.

The track returns to a sound we haven’t heard from Twenty One Pilots in a long time. “Overcompensate” begins with a slow, glitchy-sounding build-up with roughly the same phrase repeated in several languages: “This strange little island has turned me into a weapon / We both believe we can use it to change the momentum of this war.” The line references the character Clancy’s time spent on the fictional island of Voldsoy, where he honed the skills of psychokinesis to use in the war against Dema. 

At the height of the musical build-up, a distorted voice states, “Welcome back to Trench,” followed by a warped-sounding, synthesized beat drop. Not only does the line correlate with Clancy’s physical return to the continent of Trench, but it sends a message to fans that a Trench-like sound, reminiscent of their 2018 album by the same name, is returning with the new releases. The reference to Trench, a well-loved album by fans, creates nostalgia for listeners as the band enters a new era of music and storytelling.

The rest of the song is a return to a classic TØP sound — Tyler’s signature rapping style is backed by Josh’s drumming as well as synthy, distorted noise and echoey vocals throughout. Tyler sings about overcompensating, as the title suggests, and follows a theme of rising up and overtaking struggles with lines like, “overtake your former self” and “I fly by the dangerous bend symbol.” These lyrics, specifically the latter, reference the Bourbaki group (like Nico Bourbaki, the bishop) and the dangerous bend symbol, a sign appearing both on the road and in the margins of their mathematics books. Clancy flies by these signs, perhaps implying that he flies past caution warnings into dangerous situations such as battling Dema.

Fan reactions to the track have been overwhelmingly positive, with many praising its mix of both a Trench and Blurryface sound to create something fresh, exciting and closer to their alternative roots. This response is a complete change from reactions to the Scaled and Icy (SAI) album in 2021. SAI had much more pop influence, which to 2015 “emo” kids like me seemed like a jolting genre switch from their earlier sound. The record, of course, had a pop feel for a reason — it was meant to be Dema propaganda, which Clancy was forced to perform — but after following up an album like Trench, reviews were mixed, if not poor. 

In contrast, “Overcompensate” has received acclaim from fans everywhere, not only for the track itself but for the music video, too. The video, which features Clancy in a new red Bandito outfit performing in a darkened room, has gained over 12 million views on YouTube in three weeks. As he performs, people dressed in gray outfits enter the room and listen to him sing and dance until he eventually collapses. Once they approach and remove his mask, they find a completely different person underneath. As the song ends, the video cuts to Clancy and Josh, who are arriving at Trench from Voldsoy, and reveals that Clancy had been using psychokinesis to perform the song from afar. 

What does this mean for Twenty One Pilots lore? It’s obvious that Clancy is returning to Trench stronger than ever with a will to fight (and an army of rebels). Many speculate that the forthcoming album will be the climax of the storyline, where Clancy will finally defeat Dema and the bishops to free its people. It’s also implied that Clancy’s new ability to “seize” bodies with psychokinesis will be instrumental to the Banditos’ battle. Will Clancy be successful? Will he be recaptured? Will he lead Dema’s people away from Trench? Will the story end there?

The Clancy record, releasing on May 17th, seems to promise answers to these questions. While I would hate to see almost 10 years of lore come to an end, I’m excited to see where Twenty One Pilots takes their story and listen to it unfold over the course of the 13-song album. “Overcompensate” has defied and surpassed my expectations; needless to say, I’m looking forward to this welcome back to Trench.

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