Review Summary: The continuity of the album and the cohesion of the sound and songwriting support arguably the most consistent Strung Out album to date. Certainly one of the best Punk albums of the year.
Strung Out occupy a precarious position in the modern music scene. At a time when Punk Rock has essentially lost all of its original and intended meaning and bands like Fall Out Boy
and Good Charlotte
are perceived as “Punk” by large sections of the mainstream, Strung Out continue to show that the genre is not dead just yet.
Strung Out have always pushed the envelope that tiny bit further than almost all of their contemporaries. You only need to look at their previous three studio albums - particularly The Element of Sonic Defiance
- to see that. They are regarded as one of the most innovative Punk bands still kicking in the Punk scene, and rightly so. Blackhawks Over Los Angeles
has been pretty keenly anticipated, as a lot of us have waited with baited breath to see just where the Californian fivesome are headed. And so it is that Blackhawks
is probably not the groundbreaking, mind-blowingly awesome record that we had wished for. Following on from 2004’s exceptional Exile In Oblivion
was always going to be difficult, but continuing to explore new territory and break new ground is an altogether different challenge. And it seems as though it’s a challenge that the band hasn’t wanted to tackle. And that’s fine. Because while Blackhawks Over Los Angeles
might be largely more of the same from the band, the same as brilliant equals brilliant.
One of the most immediately striking aspects of Blackhawks
is the distinct lack of ‘filler’ or obviously weak tracks. This is not to say that previous albums have been plagued with such problems, but Blackhawks
has more of a complete feel to it that many of the band’s earlier releases. It really is a solid, consistent 42 minutes. But while this consistency is certainly one of the album’s greatest strengths, unfortunately there is an apparent lack of two or three pre-eminent tracks like on just about every other Strung Out record. On the previous three studio LPs there have been anywhere from two to four tracks that have stood head-and-shoulders above the rest. Velvet Alley
and Blueprint Of The Fall
immediately come to mind. Blackhawks Over Los Angeles
appears to be lacking those couple of album-defining tracks. Nevertheless, this is not to say that there aren’t some outstanding tracks on the album - as the blistering opener Calling
and the stuttering Pop-Punk anthem All The Nations
show - but more that there probably isn’t a contender for best Strung Out song ever here.
The formula here is closely aligned with the recent Strung Out sound found on An American Paradox
and Exile In Oblivion
. The trademark shredding guitars, the impassioned, layered vocals and tight rhythm section add to the ferocious yet melodic sound. Jason Cruz shows yet again that he has one of the best voices for Punk music, with his passion as prominent as ever. From the soaring cries of Calling
to the typically contemplative ballad of Letter Home
, his vocals are certainly one of the musical highlights of the band. Jordan Burns is - as always - technically superb with his powerful, express beats driving large sections of the album. But unavoidably the guitar work takes centre stage at various points throughout the album to devastating effect. The cohesion and interplay between the two guitars is superb and it’s fair to say that the guitar work has improved on every Strung Out record, to the point now that Jake Kiley and Rob Ramos form one of the most formidable guitar duos in contemporary Punk music.
is the obvious choice as the lead-single, acting as a pseudo album summary, combining shredding guitar work, aggressive verses contrasting with the more melodic choruses, and lyrically commenting on modern societal issues in the first person. The final break-come-chorus is sublime, while the line “A message out to anybody tuning in, 'Cause this whole world is slowly caving in
” is one of the most memorable from the album. Probably as close to one of those Strung Out classics
I was talking about earlier. The blazing opening to the album is continued on the relentless title-track, Blackhawks Over Los Angeles
. The lyrics explain a militarily-enforced state of chaos in LA, which is quite probably a metaphor for contemporary life and society in LA. The ominous, assertive Party In The Hills
is undeniably overshadowed by its predecessors and the exceptional All The Nations
. This stuttering Pop-Punk number has probably my favourite vocal moments on the album, as Jason begins the first verse with “In London, In Brooklyn, On the side of the road in the rain…
” and the second with “ In Berlin, in DC…
”. The lyrical direction continues the theme of isolation and a lack of understanding between cultures and nations, between both individuals and states. It’s certainly a very strong first 15 minutes.
While the consistency of the album is instantly noticeable, the fluency and cohesion of this collection of songs is initially less perceptible, but eventually far more important. The lyrics flow from one song to the next, with references to key concepts found throughout, and certain thoughts expanded upon either directly or otherwise as the album unfolds. The continual references to cities and urban life and society ties in directly with the album title, further adding to the unity of the album. Downtown
expands on the theme of confusion and chaos in a powerful four minutes with Jason at his ardent best. The introspective, contemplative lyrical and vocal brilliance we have come to expect from Jason is prevalent throughout the album, on no track more so than Letter Home
- offering up some of the most unpretentious lyrics of the year. The musically lighter and more pop-influenced side of the album is further supported by the rolling verses and anthemic choruses of Dirty Little Secret
. The lines “There's nothing in here you'd be interested to hear, So ignore me if this doesn't rhyme
” are brilliant, and the bouncing, poppy-as-you-like choruses are as catchy as any Strung Out song you’ll hear.
The band’s penchant for leaving one or two or the best songs from their albums ’til last has not been forgotten here, with the penultimate track, Mission Statement
, providing a much needed uplifting three minutes about personal belief and determination. The blatant similarity of the main riff with the Millencolin
song Dance Craze
is amazing, even though Mission Statement
is the better song. The introductory drumming to Diver
is unbelievably akin to the opening bars of Myths Of The Near Future
, of all bands. But that’s where the similiarities end, and unfortunately Diver
doesn’t live up to its album-closing ancestors of Matchbook
and The Misanthropic Principle
, or even Cemetery
. It just feels pedestrian and is one of the few songs that fails to make an impact.
While this is not a groundbreaking or blatantly innovative album, it’s undeniably an incredibly strong Punk album from undeniably one of the most accomplished Punk bands going around. The melodious entwines with the hardcore magnificently as the band further enhance their post-2000 sound. The continuity of the album and the cohesion of the sound and songwriting support arguably the most consistent Strung Out album to date. While this may not outshine some of the band’s work from the previous decade, it at the very least confirms their reputation as one of the most talented and engaging Punk bands of modern times.