Strung Out
Blackhawks Over Los Angeles


4.0
excellent

Review

by Joe Costa USER (34 Reviews)
June 9th, 2007 | 33 replies


Release Date: 2007 | Tracklist

Review Summary: 6 albums later, and Strung Out still know how to tweak their sound enough to keep things interesting. Should solidly make the top 5 of this year. Sans two duds of songs, this album kicks it.

Strung Out should really be envied by every one of their contemporaries. They are one of the few bands who have kept a genre constantly evolving with each release. Their debut, Another Day in Paradise, stuck almost directly to the Fat Wreck Chords trademark fast and catchy punk sound. Hell, tracks from that album like “In Harms Way” sounded like a Lagwagon cover at the time. However, with each album the band grew even more. Suburban Teenage Wasteland Blues showcased a huge step up in the musicianship of the band, with some critics even claiming that the drumming was super human, so fast that it had to have been recorded at a slower tempo and fast forwarded. Twisted By Design, their third full length, marked an even sharper turn towards the realm of technique-oriented heavy metal, as displayed by tracks such as the venomous “Ice Burn”.

Now after releasing three albums of quality punk rock, with a metal backbone, most bands would be content to begin the rehashing fest and churn out similar sounding albums every two years or so. However, Strung Out began to fully embrace the heavy and the technical on the next three releases (the Elements of Sonic Defiance EP, An American Paradox, and Exile in Oblivion), while mixing their most experimental and novel tracks with some of the most brilliant pop-masterpieces created in the punk genre for quite some time. And while most bands would have become far too stagnant for their own good at this point, Strung Out continues to churn out music that challenges listeners as much as their hybrid sound began to back in 1998. Blackhawks Over Los Angeles is Strung Out’s sixth full length album, and shows that the band has continued to grow more complex than ever, without being overbearing or “2 m3t4l 4 j00”.

The first thing immediately noticeable about Blackhawks is that the band has moved ever further away from the relentless machine-gun rhythms that they are well known for. The tempo of the album as a whole is more deliberate and intricate than previously, which is especially noteworthy on the poppy, borderline-saccharine “Dirty Little Secret” with its driving, almost-tribal drumming courtesy of Jordan Burns, one of the most talented drummers in modern punk rock, and the midrange, groovy chug of “Downtown”. However, unlike Exile in Oblivion, whose more midrange tracks tended to drag and whose faster tracks were obviously the standouts, Blackhawks Over Los Angeles feels refreshingly well balanced. Offering a bit of the fast and relentless (“Orchid”), some of the previously mentioned mid-tempo tracks, and some tracks that transition back and forth between the two dynamics effortlessly (“Blackhawks Over Los Angeles”), this is easily Strung Out’s most balanced and consistent work to date.

However, I would be remiss in my job as both a reviewer and a fan to neglect to mention the instrumental prowess of the band as a whole. Simply put, this band shreds. Burns lays down some of the most technically innovative fills in punk rock, with some nearly face melting patterns when given the moment to shine, especially on tracks such as “Letter Home” and “Orchid”. Bassist Chris Aiken tends to be a bit weak in comparison to the rest of the band, however does help anchor everything together very well, and lays a thick and heavy foundation with Burns’ powerful drumming. Jake Kiley and Rob Ramos, the bands guitarists, are the main attraction here though. Taking influences from nearly every genre of metal and mixing it with the punk rhythms that are standard fare for the genre, they prove to be one of the best guitar tandems out at the moment. From the interlaying guitar harmonies of “Dirty Little Secret”, to the epic, arpeggiated intro to the albums real closer “Diver” (discounting the superbly poppy bonus song, “More Than Words”), and the heavy riffs intermingling with the jangly and poppy guitar overtones of “Party in the Hills”, Ramos and Kiley show both immense talent and variety all over Blackhawks 12 tracks.

Of course though, it doesn’t hurt when just about every song on the album is at least hella good, and most of the time, awesome. There are basically no songs on the entire album that merit replacing with another or redoing, making this Strung Out’s most outwardly consistent release (neglecting the near perfection of 2002’s An American Paradox of course) thus far. However, unlike most of Strung Out’s other releases, which had very definite standouts accented by some filler material, Blackhawks really misses the mark when it comes to crafting songs as outwardly awe-inspiring as “Never Speak Again” or “Velvet Alley”, instead focusing on making a large collection of songs that leaves me very happy over all, but at a conundrum when making a car mix.

Keeping it fresh it punk rock is a milestone that very few bands have been able to achieve. The boys of Strung Out, however, are members of the elite group of punk musicians who’ve kept their music constantly changing and interesting throughout their 15 year existence. Gone are the oddball, minute production fusses of previous albums (the mix is surprisingly fair to just about everyone) and the terribly layered-to-the-point-of-obnoxious vocal tracking, making this one of the most outwardly enjoyable releases of this year for me. And while this probably will not be a contender for album of the year when all is said and done, Blackhawks Over Los Angeles is a superb effort from these punk legends who only seem to get better with age.

Recommended tracks: Blackhawks Over Los Angeles, Orchid, Mission Statement, Calling



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user ratings (169)
Chart.
3.8
excellent
other reviews of this album
RandyfromPennywise (4.5)
The continuity of the album and the cohesion of the sound and songwriting support arguably the most ...


Comments:Add a Comment 
Jom
Staff Reviewer
June 10th 2007


2689 Comments


Before anybody bitches about how this is early, or whatever, he gets a one-time pass because he provided me with evidence that he obtained a hard copy, which is good enough for me.
Having said that, this is not a precedent, so don't get any ideas.

Slaapkamers
June 10th 2007


596 Comments


yeah no stamp on your hand!

Intransit
June 10th 2007


2797 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Edit: Man Jom works quick at posting. I didn't even realize I took that long. This Message Edited On 06.09.07

mynameischan
Staff Reviewer
June 10th 2007


17939 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

i shall be getting this!

slep
June 10th 2007


1604 Comments


Good review. Seems like a pretty nifty album. I'll get it.

StrizzMatik
June 10th 2007


3219 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I was gonna review this, but you did a great job, probably better than the one I was gonna do. You hit just about all of my own sentiments exactly.

This album is, in a word, brilliant. Especially great considering this is their sixth album and bands shouldn't be putting out consistently great records over sixteen years into their existence, but Strung Out do it every time. "Orchid" is my favorite.

GleamInRanks
June 10th 2007


298 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I listened to the stream and this is great as is the review. Is An American Paradox the next album I should listen to?

CushMG15
June 10th 2007


1803 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Bring on the fuckin' shred. This band kills. Great cd, Right now I think I prefer Exile...but this feels like a grower. It's amazing how they've managed to stay fresh.

Sidenote: Aiken actually did a lot of guitar on this album. He and Kiley sort of switched roles a bit on this one. Great Review tho.

Gleaminranks: It depends on who you talk to. I'd say listen to Exile In Oblivion or Elements of Sonic Defiance. A lot of people will say to listen to An American Pardox tho. Pretty much every album is sick.This Message Edited On 06.10.07

Intransit
June 10th 2007


2797 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

An American Paradox is their most instantly enjoyable if this is the sound that you like. From there, either Exile in Oblivion or Elements of Sonic Defiance would be good to go to.

StrizzMatik
June 10th 2007


3219 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Element Of Sonic Defiance is the best thing they've ever put out, quality-wise. As for albums, I'd go with Twisted By Design or Exile In Oblivion, then An American Paradox.

GleamInRanks
June 10th 2007


298 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Cool, thanks everybody.

Intransit
June 10th 2007


2797 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

but see you are all wrong because An American Paradox is the only strung out album (until this one) with truly great production. Exile would be hella better if the snare wasn't drowned out half the time and Cruz's vocals weren't layered as much as they are. Twisted is alright, but there is no tonal variety whatsoever. They really use the exact same guitar sound on every track.

DFelon204409
Emeritus
June 10th 2007


3996 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

This ended up being disappointing. I'm still waiting for an album that can beat An American Paradox. This album is too goofy poppy at times. At the whole second half of the album isn't pop punk versus a much darker first half like Exile in Oblivion. The parts are blended better.

slep
June 10th 2007


1604 Comments


No one ever mentions Suburban Teenage Wasteland Blues

Intransit
June 10th 2007


2797 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

It's a great album, but their later work is where its at. Everything from EOSD back is much more artistically challenging, although every thing they've released is great with the exception of Another Day in Paradise.

And I sorta agree with dfelon about the uber poppy tracks. Some of them get a tad grating, but for the most part, they are catchy enough to merit sounding a little saccharine.

Iluvatar
Staff Reviewer
June 10th 2007


16089 Comments


[quote=Instransit]they are catchy enough to merit sounding a little saccharine.[/quote]
Worst use of a word ever. ANY word ever.

StrizzMatik
June 10th 2007


3219 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

DFel: Ummmm... Strung Out's always had gay poppy shit, even on An American Paradox. I mean "Alien Amplifier" egregious moog synths are about as obnoxious as it gets, but the song still rocked. "Satellite" was also pretty limp-wristed. I'm pretty sure they put those songs on there to piss people off anyways. And how can you not like the melody on "Dirty Little Secret" or "War Called Home"? I love the 80's throwback sound on "Diver" too. It's a grower dude, give it a chance.

CushMG15
June 10th 2007


1803 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

The poppy songs on here are definitely the low point. They're at their best when they use hints of pop punk in a darker atmosphere, as opposed to latching onto it as a whole.

StrizzMatik
June 10th 2007


3219 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I'll agree I was a bit put off when I first heard "All The Nations" and especially "Dirty
Little Secret", being that they're easily the most melodic/poppy songs Strung Out
has penned as of yet. I certainly dig on the heavier tracks like "Orchid", "BOLA", and
"Calling"... but the songwriting and individual songs stand out far more in general
on this record IMO.

Favorite moment? The lead-in to the killer solo on "Orchid". When Cruz hits that
high-note into the opening licks, it sends some mad chillz up my spine. The chorus
of "Calling" is uber-cool as well.

On a side note, I don't see why so many Strung Out fans hate on Exile In Oblivion
. Sure, the production generally sucked and Strung Out slowed down a bit, but
you can't knock the genius of songs like "Her Name In Blood", "Never Speak Again",
"Angeldust", "Misanthropic Principle", "Blueprint", and ESPECIALLY "Vampires", a
song with a melody any self-respecting pop-punk band would kill for. That album
is pretty much gold front-to-back.This Message Edited On 06.10.07

RandyfromPennywise
June 11th 2007


752 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I have never really heard fans of Strung Out knocking Exile. The way I see it, it's generally one of the band's most highly-regarded albums. For me, Blueprint Of The Fall, Swan Dive, and The Misanthropic Principle are three of the band's best songs, ever.

EDIT: It's 12 June where I am, yet I still can't vote on this... This Message Edited On 06.11.07



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