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CD Review: Strung Out, "Blackhawks Over Los Angeles"

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When you think of Fat Wreck Chords, you may instinctively think of such household punk acts as NOFX, Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, or Less than Jake. Then there's Strung Out, who have been rocking the LA punk scene since 1992, but where's the love?

The boys of the Simi Valley quintet have been fusing metal riffs with punk rock speed and thoughtful, melodic vocals since 1992. With their 7th full length album entitled "Blackhawks over Los Angeles" released during the summer of this year, Strung Out has once again managed to make sure that socks are adequately rocked off.

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One of the coolest aspects of Strung Out is the universal mastery of instruments. Since their first album "Another Day in Paradise", it is quite clear how guitarists Rob Ramos, Jake Kiley and bassist Chris Aiken have evolved their punk style with metal flair, expanding towards more hardcore riffs and Slayer-like solos (which comes as no surprise considering Slayer and Hatebreed producer Matt Hyde was on board for the album’s production.) Frontman Jason Cruz makes sure no vocal quality is spared with multi-layered harmonies and pensive, topical lyrics. What's most impressive, however, is Jordan Burns' explosive tantrum on the drums as he seamlessly blends rock and punk rock tempos. It seems as if such proficient musicianship throughout the punk rock genre is pretty elusive these days.

We begin with some SFX of what I assume are Blackhawks flying over Los Angeles, and after about 40 seconds of flamenco-meets-spaghetti-western-style pre-track, we are forced with guns to our backs into the album with the first three songs spewing nothing less than an accurate example of the aforementioned skill. Congruent with the group’s history, there are naturally a few token pop-y, upbeat songs reminiscent of a few “Twisted By Design” tracks (my personal fave of theirs), such as “Dirty Little Secret” and “All the Nations.” However, I personally and firmly believe that the track entitled “Orchid” demonstrates by far how Strung Out has evolved into more of a dynamic entity rather than your standard issue three-chord-progression punk band. The song just rocks. (note: I wasn't able to find an embedded version of Orchid; email me and I'd be happy to send it)

Now if I had to complain about one thing, I couldn’t do so without encompassing how I feel about modern punk in general; the political angle just seems a little forced (e.g. with songs like “Letter Home” and “A War Called Home” on the album.) I know, I know, you’re going to tell me that punk rock is all about anarchy, laissez-faire ethics, and an untrustworthy government, but even a band like NOFX who used to sing about paraplegic prostitutes (“She’s Nubs”) succumbed to the social pressure to get a partisan message across. It seems as if the genre doesn’t even need to pander to the populace about the current administration since every other genre does it now anyway. I guess that in the end, it doesn’t really matter as long as the music still rocks, and this album undoubtedly does.

Album art courtesy of and music courtesy of Project Playlist