ALBUM REVIEW: Heartwork (THE USED)
ALBUM Heartwork // ARTIST The Used
Eternally linked to the wake of the early 2000s and the heady rise of post hardcore to the mainstream, The Used have time and time again defied the emo crown placed upon them for nearly two decades. And while there's undoubtedly a heartfelt anchor bustling behind the group's upcoming eighth studio album Heartwork, there's also an array of gleeful sonic subversion and eerily relevant thematics that resonates heavily for those willing to journey into some unique modern musical waters.
Coming into their eighth full-length release armed with renewed vigour and a desire to revisit the colourful gamut of some of their earlier records, The Used can't ever be accused of playing it safe. Born from the straight-laced surroundings of Utah in the US amid a horde of personal hurdles back in 2001, the current state of The Used in 2020 is one of true camaraderie blended with a defiance to be pigeon-holed and a lust for erratic flair, seen most feverishly on their upcoming release Heartwork due out on April 24th.
Openly declaring a blend of dance, pop, punk rock and more ahead of releasing their eighth opus, Heartwork (no Carcass fans, not that 'Heartwork') delivers on predictions made by frontman Bert McCracken in the lead-up to release that "music is so all over the place right now that The Used fits in perfectly". And it's this mercurial prediction that plays out obligingly across the hefty space of 16 tracks, with The Used grasping at every volatile trick in the book - with genuinely engaging results.
Starting in riffing fashion, Heartwork greets us with lead single and literary love letter Paradise Lost, plying pop-laced rock with blankets of grunge as the group both pay tribute to John Milton's epic poem while displaying the trademark Used punch and polish beneath McCracken's silky rasp. It's familiar fare sonically for those familiar with the band, but deftly lays some of the early groundwork for the twists and turns to come.
PARADISE LOST (THE USED)
Second out of the gates is fellow lead-single Blow Me which offers undoubtedly some of the heaviest moments Heartwork has up its sleeves. With Fever 333 frontman Jason Aalon Butler on guest vocals, there was never a doubt Blow Me was going to ensure some musical mayhem, and the track more than delivers, draped in menacing tones, beefy textures and heart-pounding rhythmics building to a dazzling, dank and dirty breakdown that hurls Butler's madcap vocals to the forefront. Butler's addition blends noticeably well with the harsher Used tendencies and for a moment it seems the group have swerved into much heavier waters - but in typical fashion, things are about to get a whole lot more electrifying.
BLOW ME FEAT. JASON AALON BUTLER (THE USED)
Shredding into more electronic territory, BIG WANNA BE sashays in next with bombastic arrangements full of glitchy splashes, anthemic stomps and poppy melodics that laps at the darker sides of the music industry while delivering what could quite honestly rival the well-worn Imagine Dragons stadium rock trope if not for McCracken's continued flair. Angst and some grittier tones return next with Bloody Nose doling out poppy progressions and fuzzy stylings that dabble with urgent, cinematic strings and an inescapably personal narrative for anyone familiar with the band's early personal struggles amid more universal themes.
A brief lush and soothing interlude courtesy of My Cocoon signals at some hip-hoppery afoot; but for now it's some shimmering pop overtones and electronic lashings, complete with glittering harps, pumping grooves and soft vocals as Cathedral Bell pumps some effortless positivity before the darker pop and erratic theatrics awaiting on 1984 (Infinite Jest).
Journeying into the second half of Heartwork, a now-familiar status quo follows as the Used assuredly tread between powerful ballad territory on Gravity's Rainbow to the utter dance bop that is Clean Cut Heals (the latter demanding particular mention of bassist Jeph Howard and his perky basslines). Meanwhile. title track Heartwork offers another short interlude with McCracken busting out some spoken word vocals amid some burgeoning hip hop production, providing a segue into jangly positivity (The Lighthouse), some straight-up nostalgic pop punk (Obvious Blasé) and the return of some good old-fashioned riffage with The Lottery marking one of the most dynamic tracks with its otherworldly melodics and shifting time signatures ultimately building into a sweaty breakdown that scrapes away all the candy from your ears from the previous poppier tunes.
As we edge closer to the end, penultimate track Darkness Bleeds, FOTF whips up a lovechild between riotous dance and alternative rock as blasting riffs interchange with pulsing electronics and splashy drumwork before finding a soothing outro complete with emotive pianos. And fittingly, closing track To Feel Something continues in this softer vein while taking a more melancholic twist as McCracken repeatedly declares "I just want to feel something//Anything is better than this//I just want to feel something//No different from anyone else". It's an eerily accurate narrative written well before the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, but To Feel Something inadvertently finds a hauntingly engaging take on the hurtling anguish currently gripping the world, and closes out the album on a poignant yet powerful note.
For those uninitiated with The Used, or perhaps those who still lump them in the emo/screamo stratosphere, the sonic array on display throughout Heartwork may initially startle with its unwavering versatility - and left in the hands of a band less compelling and passionate, the chameleon-esque nature perhaps may have drowned in its own creative ambition. But The Used are not only incredibly well-equipped to entice and allure with their affable melodics and raging technical range; they're ultimately a band continually able to shape, defy and expand the musical landscape armed with flair, relatability and an undying love for what they do. Mirroring the oscillating state of the world with unwavering charm, Heartwork may not have been intended as such, but it most certainly finds itself as a sonic refuge in these uncertain times, and ultimately grants a sharp reminder for the enduring Used legacy after all this time.
BY TIANA SPETER