Strung Out
Blackhawks Over Los Angeles


4.5
superb

Review

by RandyfromPennywise USER (34 Reviews)
June 11th, 2007 | 58 replies


Release Date: 2007 | Tracklist

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, Matchbook 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.

Calling 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 from Klaxons, 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.



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3.8
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6 albums later, and Strung Out still know how to tweak their sound enough to keep things interesting...


Comments:Add a Comment 
samthebassman
June 12th 2007


2164 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Another good review, Im pretty keen on this album.

RandyfromPennywise
June 12th 2007


752 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

www.myspace.com/strungout - streaming the entire album.

I'm heaps tired and am about to go to sleep, if there are mistakes or whatever please let me know and I'll fix them later, cheers. And some feedback on the format too if applicable would be good - it's basically four paragraphs of general discussion, then three paragraphs talking about songs, so it's kind of all over the shop I reckon, I don't know.

slep
June 12th 2007


1604 Comments


Nice review. I'll get this sometime soon.

spoon_of_grimbo
June 12th 2007


2241 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

great review, though i think you were a bit harsh on "diver," i think it's a brilliant closer!!!

still, gets my vote!This Message Edited On 06.12.07

doctorsscriptsand666
June 12th 2007


47 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I gotta agree with Grimbo, you were harsh on Diver. I've thought that most strung out closers (leaving out Cemetery) usually are much more upbeat like the misanthropic principle and matchbook, giving kind of a happy ending to their records, leaving with a bang, you know?

But all in all, my metal friends are fucking jealous of their talent on this record.

If A Wilhelm Scream can somehow top this (this year) they could be demigods or something.

Iluvatar
Staff Reviewer
June 12th 2007


16089 Comments


Why is this the default?

RandyfromPennywise
June 12th 2007


752 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I dunno, I just noticed that as well. Maybe because it's newer, I dunno really. Not really complaining either.

Mikesn
Emeritus
June 12th 2007


3709 Comments


This album is excellent, as is the review.

Digging: Grimes - Visions

StrizzMatik
June 16th 2007


3210 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Great album and great review. So far this is one of my favorite Strung Out releases yet, although it's below Exile and can't touch Element Of Sonic Defiance.

Digging: Lagwagon - Hang

DFelon204409
Emeritus
June 17th 2007


3995 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Man this just doesn't do it for me. This CD makes me like Exile in Oblivion's first half a lot better though. Let's not talk about part two though.

RandyfromPennywise
June 19th 2007


752 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Part two of Exile? Well it only contains two of the best Punk songs of the decade on it, but yeah.

DFelon204409
Emeritus
June 20th 2007


3995 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Care to explain?

RandyfromPennywise
June 20th 2007


752 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Swan Dive and The Misanthropic Principle are - along with Blueprint - the best songs on the album. Maybe I was being a little over the top saying 'best punk songs of the decade' for The Misanthropic Principle, but for me Swan Dive is in that category - probably because the lyrics really strike a chord with me. It's such an emotional song, being about Jim Cherry and all. And 7, 8 and 9 aren't bad tracks either. So yeah, the back half of Exile, well I really don't see it as weak. I pretty much see it as a consistently brilliant album really, with a massively strong finish.

EDIT: I think I meant tracks 8, 9 and 10, not 7, 8, 9 but doesn't matter, all good songs, and Scarlet as well. This Message Edited On 06.20.07

descendents1
June 21st 2007


702 Comments


Swan Dive is probably in the top 1,000 punk songs of the past decade.

RandyfromPennywise
June 21st 2007


752 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Yeah, in your opinion.

descendents1
June 21st 2007


702 Comments


I can't wait till I get my Ph.D. so I can say "A doctor's opinion!"

The Sludge
June 21st 2007


2169 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

[quote=descendents1]I can't wait till I get my Ph.D. so I can say "A doctor's opinion!"[/quote]
I love this post.

RandyfromPennywise
June 21st 2007


752 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Haha, yeah. But you know what I mean. I know Swan Dive probably isn't objectively the best song on the album, but for me it just about is, probably behind Blueprint. Each to their own.

StrizzMatik
June 27th 2007


3210 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I do not for the life of me understand your hate for this album and especially Exile, Nick, especially considering that Exile has far better songs than An American Paradox, unequivocally. And part 2 of Exile sucks? GTFO seriously. "Never Speak Again" alone blows away 1/2 of AAP all by itself, not counting Blueprint, Angeldust, Katatonia, Her Name In Blood, Angeldust, Lucifermotorcade, Misanthropic Principle, Vampires, Scarlet, yeah... even Swan Dive. AAP has Velvet Alley, Cult, The Kids, Razor Sex, and maybe the title track to call as standouts. Frankly, the album as a whole had a lot of filler and was a definite musical step backwards for Strung Out following Element Of Sonic Defiance, an EP that flirted with thrash, metal, industrial, progressive, and a distinctly non-conventional (i.e., original) musical path for the band. Exile sonically would have been a far more fitting continuation. Not to say AAP isn't great anyways, but God it's overrated, and seemingly only on Sputnik too.

BOLA is undeniably good, consistently-so, front to back. The songwriting is deserving of veteran status, the hooks kill, the riffs shred harder than ever. It's not the best. But it's better than any other punk band's output in 2007 and even at their least impressive moments they own on 90% of their peers without a problem.

Intransit
June 27th 2007


2797 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

No An American Paradox is definitely better than Exile. Angeldust is probably the worst song Strung Out have written since Another Day in Paradise. Both Angeldust and Vampires are way overshadowed by Skeletondanse anyway, so meh.

An American Paradox had Cemetary as it's only truly subpar song. Exile has Katatonia, Angeldust, and Vampires. So yeah, ftl on you.



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