By David Rolland
By David Von Bader
By Rebecca Bulnes
By Laurie Charles
By Chuck Strouse
By Lee Zimmerman
By Laurie Charles
Southern California has birthed more successful hyphenated punk bands than anywhere else in the world. From the Eighties punk-metal of Black Flag to the latter-day pop-punk of the Offspring, La-La Land and its environs are the epicenter of anger-with-a-twist.
Strung Out's latest release this past June, Blackhawks Over Los Angeles, is the band's eighth album and the newest example of the venturesome spirit of SoCal punk. Singer/lyricist Jason Cruz's vocals are showcased in layers upon layers of tracks, the result, he says, of having fully integrated his laptop computer with the studio's desktop, allowing him to record just about anywhere anytime. The resulting almost-constant harmonizing is not unlike that of a golden-era Cheap Trick. It's a sweet contrast to the vicious, precise pounding of the rhythm section, and the snarling dual guitars of Rob Ramos and Jake Kiley.
Cruz says the title of the album came to him at a surreal moment in nearby Simi Valley, where a couple of military choppers roared into view and mysteriously hovered over the streets. The symbolism was far from being lost on Cruz. Almost the entire album, he says, documents his efforts to wrap his head around the government's protracted and mammoth expenditures in blood and money in the Middle East.
A standout track called "Mission Statement" shows Cruz in a more personally reflective mood, not indulging in any of the facile sarcasm the title might suggest. "After so many years and so many shows, you just have to pause and say, 'Okay, what am I doing here? Why am I doing this?'" he says. "Then I pick myself up and I'm ready to do it all over again."