Canyon – Empty Rooms

Canyon
Empty Rooms

From the opening moments of Empty Rooms, the second long-player from Canyon, the band gives off the distinct impression that they are not going to make things easy for their listeners. They sound as if they’re in a peculiar mood, one compelling enough that they need to force it on the world whether it wants it or not. That mood, thankfully enough, is not the kind of self-involved moping of a James Taylor. Canyon seems desperate to communicate something to somebody, but exactly what that is and how we as the audience are supposed to receive it remains intriguingly elusive throughout the record.
The most effective weapon in Canyon’s arsenal is their sense of tension, one that lingers in the background of their best songs like a gun waiting to fire. The band’s guitars are most responsible for this. They lurch forward towards explosive feedback but never quite cross into anything as violent as what they hint at. This might sound like a disappointment, but it would only prove to be so to those with an insatiable hunger for pure noise. Other, more open-minded souls should find the discrepancy between suggestion and realization to be the most fascinating part of Empty Rooms. The shadows of the music are as interesting as the music itself, giving the proceedings a sense of possibilities both relaxing and destructive. It never reaches either state in any unmixed form, and the resulting ambiguity stands as the album’s finest achievement.
This unsettled feeling is the prominent feature only on about half the songs on Empty Rooms. Elsewhere, the band plays it relatively safe with semi-conventional country-rock ballads. To spice things up a bit, they add some electronic knob-twiddling and a few structural surprises, and even without these frills, the idea of inserting some contrasting material seems like it would be a good one. In practice, though, these tracks wind up dragging the more tense ones down, shooting for placidity but winding up boring instead. The simplicity of songs such as “Lights of Town” look positively simple-minded when they stand next to capsules of unmitigated daring like “Mansion on the Mountain.” The sparkling sense of adventure on the latter song derives strongly from the band’s appetite for musical miscegenation. At their peak, Canyon swirls together enough influences in such thorough fashion as to make its elements difficult to trace, and the results are uniformly strong. Yet for some peculiar reason, they suppress that appetite on the inferior half of the album, settling for straightforward writing that isn’t inherently interesting enough to sustain interest. They try to prove themselves as an outfit that could cut it as regular country rockers, and their failure to do so is what prevents them from blossoming into the fine band they sometimes seem to be.