The CanyonHopeless Records
By Cole Faulkner
It’s hard to believe that it’s been ten years since the release of The Used’s most commercially visible full length, Lies For The Liars. I use this as a reference point because it was one of the band’s albums that left a strong impression on me back in the days of hunting down Best Buy and Hot Topic exclusive bonus tracks. At the time, the band was being branded as stylistic cousins to Black Parade era My Chemical Romance. It was the flavour of the week, and between the striking album art and flashy singles, they served as adequate peers. In time though, the band has found their own voice and remade their image.
Their latest full length, The Canyon, continues their contemporary identify as purveyors of emotionally driven rock and alternative, but with a unique purpose: as a tribute and eulogy to front man Bert McCracken’s friend Tregin Lewis, who took his own life a little over a year before the album’s release, and his ex-girlfriend who overdosed while pregnant some thirteen years ago. This change in direction is mirrored with changes in lineup, including the departure of founding guitarist Quinn Allman and inclusion of Saosin guitarist Justin Shekoski. Further adjustments rest in the production booth, with the band going with Ross Robinson instead of long time producer John Feldmann. As if that wasn’t enough, the band opted to make The Canyon their most raw to date, recording the album entirely on tape, without the production gloss that once defined their height in radio play.
All this change translates into a very unique experience, which some fans may even find disorienting. Opener “For You” serves partially as a spoken word dedication to the deceased, followed by an acoustic tribute that feels like McCracken truly carries his heart on his sleeve. It’s not the type of track you’d expect to open an album – in fact, the first time heard it I had to check the track listing. In this regards, the song plays more like a hidden bonus track than one to leave an initial impression. It’s a somewhat disorienting start to a lengthy album, so the band still has time to sell prospective listeners.
“Cold War Telescreen” follows with a more familiar and conventional approach, turning up the volume for a guitar heavy rocker with plenty of attitude circa distant guitar solos and McCracken reaching for those shrill vibrato highs. There’s a faint likeness to Alien Ant Farm, and it suits them well. Songs like “Vertigo Cave” and “Selfies In Aleppo” retain the heavy, sludgy riffs but with darker, denser vocals, and and an infusion of distortion in the latter. While classic rock may not be a term referenced frequently by those describing The Used, The Canyon presents steady flashes throughout, with particular attention to “Moving Mountain (Odysseus Surrenders)” and “The Nexus” for curious ears.
The Used retain a down to earth foundation but don’t hesitate to invoke instances of flashier pop-rock along the way. “Over and Over Again” is particularly glitzy in a more rudimentary Fall Out Boy type of way, while “Broken Windows” takes a mid-tempo “woah-oah” heavy approach not unlike “Rise Up Lights.” “Rise Up Lights” is a clear musical standout that would flourish stronger if it wasn’t for the somewhat cliched emo reference to “razor blades” dominating each chorus. While The Canyon would likely be classified by most as a stylistic experiment in The Used’s discography, the band’s distinctive fingerprint remains recognizable.
The Canyon features 17 songs, which include the full menu of items plated in the studio, making for no b-sides or tracks left on the cutting room floor. This makes both listening to the album and adequately assessing it a highly involved undertaking – so to say there is a lot of emotions swirling around would be an understatement. But if there is an easy point of agreement, it’s that The Canyon is arguably one of The Used’s most, if not the most, authentic and genuine artistic expression of their career. The album might not be for every fan out there, but considering the The Canyon’s intensely personal mission, that’s just fine.