A SHOTGUN blast jumpstarts the opening track of The Used’s sophomore release, “In Love and Death,” marking the entire roller-coaster feel of the album, shifting gears from sincere heartfelt ballads to angst-ridden outbursts.

Nine Inch Nail bassist Danny Lohner gave a hand in programming the first track, “Take it Away”, giving the song an industrial-metal flavor that could easily drive one’s adrenalin to hyperdrive.

With a distinct alternative rock flavor, “In Love and Death” veers away from the usual punk stereotype that usually refers to angst-ridden teenagers who like to scream nonsensical rants about sex, girls, zits, and other teenage issues through distorted detuned guitars with terrible feedback. With The Used’s multi-dimensional soundscapes and Bert McCracken’s distinct appealing vocals, this album certainly offers more than the usual punk menu.

Like its experimentation on its self-titled debut release, The Used, composed of vocalist McCracken, drummer Branden Steineckert, guitarist Quinn Allman and bassist Jeph Howard, overlaid “In Love and Death” with different interesting and certainly ingenious sounds, like the ticking of a clock, gun blasts, and tinkering children’s toys.

As what the title suggests, “In Love and Death” has a dualistic composition, a one-two punch that strikes extreme ends of the pendulum in terms of lyrics, vocals, and instrumentation. As easily as the band sings and screams about drugs and desperation in “Let it Bleed,” the band immediately changes the mood in the next track, “All That I’ve Got”, which begins with a poignant and almost ironic reference to the previous track, “So deep/that I didn’t even bleed and caught me/off guard/red-handed now I’m far from lonely/asleep I still see you lying next to me.” Throughout the album, McCracken’s vocals can be heard alternating between an almost ethereal croon to powerful and almost primal screams.

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Like the Aimee Mann and Lisa Loeb school of lyricism, The Used has the knack for delivering songs that are simple in content without appearing dull and mediocre. In “Hard to Say,” one of the most noteworthy tracks on the album, McCracken croons, “It’s hard to say how I feel today for years gone by/It’s hard to say that I was wrong/It’s hard to say I miss you/since you’ve been gone it’s not the same.”

The band also bolts out of the box in “Lunacy Fringe,” a jazzy radio-friendly song played with a stand-up bass. In “Yesterday’s Feelings,” a glockenspiel accompanies McCracken as he sings, “I can’t care to worry/I’m feeling so lonely/breaking apart all this love in my heart.”

In the highly infectious “I Caught Fire,” Allman is at his best, as acrobatic guitar lines outlined the song.

In “Soundeffects and Overdramatics,” the Used trips down memory lane to exhibit the rockhard musical arrangements it did on its debut release.

As an extra treat, “In Love and Death” is neatly packaged with fanciful artworks courtesy of Tower Record artist Alex Pardee.

By bravely giving reference not only to love, but also to death, The Used’s sophomore release may not come up as the perfect Valentine soundtrack this February. But if you’re looking for an album that faces love squarely in the face, paints love as a bed of roses in a swampy landscape, then try giving “In Love and Death” a spin or two in your cd player. As McCracken pulls off an adrenalin pumping spiel in the last track, “I’m a Fake,” he delivers the final hammer that links struggle and triumph, “a small simple price/rise the wake and carry me with all of my regrets/this is not a small cut that scabs and dries and flakes and heals/and I’m not afraid to die/I’m not afraid to bleed and f**k and fight.” Jose Bimbo F. Santos

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