Review Summary: is it worth it, can you even hear me?
Both halves of The Canyon
begin with words unaccompanied by music. The first disc, a glimpse into Robert McCracken's mind-frame in the wake of his friend's death, an uncomfortably human and humanistic moment; the second a biting piece of George Orwell's satire. There couldn't be more of a difference between the two, yet they provide an easy anchor point, a stylistic choice to link the more personal, intimate first disc with the second's socio-political concerns. (They also feel like a callback to the band's older days – "I'm A Fake" specifically). For about 40 minutes we follow as Robert retraces the days and feelings before and after Traegan's suicide, the facts and possibilities and regrets; in the band's first, and possibly last, genuinely bone-chilling moment he wonders "what did it take, to trigger the end? I could have been there." Robert's evocation of setting is exquisite, snapshots of the minuscule details which overwhelm your field of vision in a moment like this – a bass guitar, an empty truck, and oh yeah, a loaded gun. "I stood with you through How It Feels To Be Something On
, Tom played my favourite song", and it's the kind of uncomfortably personal moment that makes you feel like you've heard something that should have stayed private. But there's nothing held back on this album, no quiet moment or memory untouched in the fevered search for one thing, anything to fucking make meaning from all this.
The second disc, then, is not a recovery or a revelation, but a reappraisal. The echoes of the death ripple out further and further, as they do, touching on political climates and tensions and Greek tragedies; a powerful reminder of how the feeling of a loss taints literally every aspect of your life. In place of a linear narrative we have a "reflective parabola", just a fancy way of saying that we reach the climax in the middle – "Upper Falls" and "The Divine Absence", two absolute career best songs for the band detailing the actual suicide – while the beginning and end spread outwards to the edges of the narrative. The story of The Canyon
is that of an entire life and all the lives it ever touched, the moments both big and small shared between people cut tragically short. It would take the span of a universe to do justice to a thing like that. I'm amazed The Used fit it into 80 tiny minutes.
But fuck all that, because this is an album about grief, a death, and no amount of carefully-chosen analytical words can look anything but small next to that. (No matter how much I'm really itching to talk about the idiosyncrasies that make this record great, both brilliant and bewildering – that
rap verse or that
banjo breakdown). Nah, The Canyon
terrifies me, its raw edges unprecedented and cutting, its very existence from a band firmly entrenched in my childhood hard to reconcile. It's like a very old friend sitting down with you to explain why the universe is meaningless, like a beloved childhood toy suddenly showing up to take you through the salient points of entropy. What makes it unique from other death-obsessed albums of late – which, yeah, there have been a fair few – is an utter refusal to process or justify anything. "The Mouth of the Canyon" almost tricks you into believing some epic catharsis will make sense of it, quantify or qualify the death into something easily digestible, narratively satisfying. But it doesn't leave us anywhere at all except where we began. To its credit, The Canyon
has already reached its climactic realisation in the very first song. In the very first minute, in fact, as Robert eulogises Traegan and explains with unimaginable courage the entire heart of the record, its reason to exist – "every single song I ever sing is for you"
. And every song from there on is simply a variation on that theme, a figure spinning in a circle looking outwards but never shifting from the spot, exploring the emotional, the physical, even the political ramifications of the death. There's no big narrative needed, because all of The Canyon
exists in that second after the crushing wave hits when you're rooted to the spot, and know that a part of you will be there forever. An album which simply allows itself to be washed over, and take it all in. To simply be. In a time when even being must hurt like hell, that's one hell of a gift to give to the world.