Nostalgia: how much is too much?


Album cover of “Trench” by Twenty One Pilots

Sam Graziano, Web Staffer

Five years ago, my musical taste was very different from what it is today. At the time, I knew nothing about jazz, I hadn’t found my appreciation for composers like Bernstein, and I hadn’t discovered the rush of listening to harder acts like My Ticket Home or Architects. Half a decade ago, my musical tastes were centered around Twenty One Pilots. As a fourteen-year-old, I was trying to figure out a lot. I felt that the band’s 2013 album Vessel was helping me think about my place in the world, or how to deal with new and confusing emotions, among other things.

Over time, my tastes began to shift away from the band. I began to appreciate styles that weren’t in the spotlight of Top 40 radio. I had to search for what I liked, and in my search, I found funk, mambo, math rock, jazz, progressive metal, and indie among many others. My tastes had departed so much from Twenty One Pilots that when they released a new album in 2015, I didn’t feel inclined to listen; I had better things to find. I was sure that this would remain the case with their newest album Trench which came out last week. Over the summer they had released a few singles that I felt indifferent about. I was too busy delving into the discographies of Miles Davis, Elvin Jones, and a myriad of other artists. A few days ago, I noticed Trench was out and I had a few hours to kill, so I sat down and listened. Unlike Twenty One Pilots’ previous effort, I loved it.

Once finishing my first listen, I began to wonder how much of my joy was coming from what I was currently listening to and how much of it was coming from subconscious reminiscing. Did I like this album because it was a good album or because it was nice to remember what it felt like to love this band when I was younger? This question continued to burrow its way into my head to the point where I felt like I had to investigate somehow. I looked through old playlists I had made in high school and even before that. I found dozens of songs that I felt completely embarrassed about ever liking, and yet, I still found myself liking them. I began to worry that the power of nostalgia was stronger than that of my ability to analyze whatever I was listening to. Would my journey to find new music be stunted short by my fondness of what I’ve heard before? Then I found a song that I haven’t heard in a very long time.

“How Far We’ve Come” by Matchbox Twenty is an all-around great song. With a chorus that’ll stay in your head for days and verses that are just as memorable, it does its job as a pop song. However, it does much more than that. Clocking in around 170 bpm, it’s one of the faster by the band. Within the intrinsically high energy tempo, the band is able to showcase a variety of moods within the song. Even though this was a favorite of mine when I was younger, I was able to look at it now and have reasons for liking it beyond nostalgia. This too goes for Trench in that I had reasons beyond nostalgia for liking it. There was a whole new landscape of sounds that I hadn’t expected from the band. The album opens with “Jumpsuit” which feels like it’s something out of a Royal Blood album, with a roaring distorted bass track and booming drums. Then in songs like “Levitate” or “Morph” it seems like the band is using electronic music in a way that I feel as though they never have before. In these tracks, among others in the album, electronic sounds aren’t used as gimmicks that distract from the rest of the song, but instead they are used to create a more cohesive sound. While there are a few tracks on this album that are not my cup of tea, I do have to say that the sound quality on this album is the band’s best effort yet.

Nostalgia is not something to run from. It can be fun to look back and remember what we liked in our youth. However, it shouldn’t dictate what we like now. If nostalgia is one of the driving factors in what we are interested in, the spirit of adventure in music will die. I don’t feel like that is the case for me. This new album by Twenty One Pilots has its merits. I’ve felt for a while that the group had too much on their plate artistically. They were trying to play in so many different genres that it took away from their attempts at any of these styles. Trench, I believe, is a bold attempt to cut the band’s losses and hone in a few of their signature sounds. Overall, I was really surprised, and I’m excited to see where this takes the group in the future. Give it a listen.