In the acting biz, there’s a well worn expression signifying a performance which seems completely uninspired. That expression is “phoning it in.” Unfortunately, that’s exactly how to describe the performances on the new Blackhawks over Los Angeles album from skate punk band Strung Out.
Blackhawks isn’t a terrible album. It just doesn’t ring with the spirit of the group’s previous releases including the classics Suburban Teenage Wasteland Blues and Twisted by Design. Oh yeah, Jordan Burns still kicks major drum ass here, as does Rob Ramos on guitar and Jason Cruz on vocals. But the band sounds a little tired on Blackhawks and instead of whipping up their usual frenzy, they’re just going through the motions.
A few of the tracks do show promise. “Party in the Hills,” “The King Has Left the Building,” “Mission Statement,” and “Diver” all retain the edginess of songs past. I waited for the whole thing to kick in though, and after about twenty plays, the record still didn’t hang together for me. Songs like “Calling,” “All the Nations,” “Dirty Little Secret” and the title track, “Blackhawks Over Los Angles,” sounded more like faint reminders of what made this band great in the first place. I had to wonder if this is the end of the band as we know and love them.
Strung Out has a reputation for mixing the best elements of metal with punk, and throwing in some deeply felt lyrics on top of the whole mix. On each of the albums, myriad guitar tracks are layered to produce other-worldly sounds, much of it dissonant. Add to this the furious pace of the back beat provided by Burns and bassist Chris Aiken, Strung Out’s music laid down some stripped down landscapes that hearkened back to the early work of the late Minneapolis band Husker Du. All of these elements remain on Blackhawks, but without the mania that marked their previous efforts.
Perhaps Strung Out is signifying the need for a new direction. After all, they’re masters of this sub-punk genre and may now need to evolve further. All bands do this at some point so it’s entirely possible that Blackhawks is the bands’ farewell to punk fusion. I hope not. Their demented brew of speed, texture and thoughtful lyrics separate them from so many punk wannabes currently on the tour circuit.
Whatever the future holds for Strung Out, Blackhawks is an album for hardcore fans who will easily forgive the groups lack of enthusiasm. Many people will probably argue with me about this, but Blackhawks just doesn’t fly.