Drawing dichotomous inspiration from happy childhood memories and the devastation following a friend's suicide, the Used explore mortality and the big picture on The Canyon, their seventh and most ambitious effort to date. Produced by Ross Robinson, this double album is bloody, raw, and unflinchingly personal, its impact made more effective by an unpolished, live feel achieved by recording directly to tape. Taking new artistic steps, the Used incorporate elements from prog-leaning bands like At the Drive-In and Coheed and Cambria, as well as dramatic rock outfits like Muse and My Chemical Romance. Nirvana also looms over much of the album, with lyrical references to "Negative Creep," "All Apologies," "On a Plain," and "Molly's Lips" scattered amongst the melodic hardcore assaults. Frontman Bert McCracken (credited as the more adult Rob in the liner notes) remains a force, his throttled-ragdoll howls wild as ever. Over 17 tracks, his emotional bloodletting is pure catharsis, purging pain and angst in typically visceral fashion. However, whereas earlier Used anthems captured a particularly youthful energy, on The Canyon, they embrace adulthood with a relatable and matured focus on life, loss, and even parenthood. Exposed nerves are immediately jolted on the lush acoustic opener "For You," a vulnerable ode to McCracken's late friend. From there, it's a breathless journey that requires time and patience. On the first part of the album, highlights include the catchy "Broken Windows," the raucous "Rise Up Lights" (a play on "razorblades"), which finds McCracken nearly rattling right off the proverbial rails, and the rhythmic groover "The Divine Absence (This Is Water)," an open road epic with a jam session feel that allows the raw emotion to naturally carry the band into the sunset as disc one concludes. The next half opens with the scathing "Selfies in Aleppo," a blistering stomper that bleeds straight into the prog-core of "Moving the Mountains (Odysseus Surrenders)." Their newfound muscular riff-assault peaks on "The Nexus," a powerful epic backed by a full choir. The band makes the most obvious artistic risks over much of this section, with a brief rap on "The Quiet War" juxtaposed by the tender "Moon-Dream," which features a lush string quartet and vocals by McCracken's daughter. However, it's standout single "Over and Over Again" that provides the biggest surprise. The poppiest song they've recorded to date, it's unapologetically catchy and fun without diluting the band's brand. Like the overall album experience, it's a litmus test that actually pays off. The Canyon meanders and searches, demanding full attention that can be frustrating and emotionally exhausting. But by the time they close with the epic "The Mouth of the Canyon," it's ultimately quite rewarding. After descending into the titular pit of emotion, doubt, and pain, the Used claw their way out, emerging stronger and more confident. As McCracken triumphantly declares on "The Nexus," "I know we're all the used, but not defeated." For a band that has evolved from screamo to such thoughtful artistry, The Canyon is a stunning offering.
AllMusic Review by Neil Z. Yeung
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2