After over a decade in existence, Strung Out has settled into flagship position at Fat Wreck. But as Exile in Oblivion's streamlined sound and thoughtful lyrics suggest, the quintet has also reached veteran status musically. Beginning with its rich, evocative artwork, Exile is by no means just the next California punk-pop record. After a rousing opener that establishes the harder-hitting side of the band's mix of punk revivalism and melodic hardcore, Strung Out drops "Blueprint of the Fall." Over a Bad Religion backbeat and not-overdone metal guitar flourishes, vocalist Jason Cruz delivers a sobering rumination on 9/11 and the state of American freedom. "Imagine a place where freedom's just a word on the wall/Surrounded by the wreckage of towers that could never fall"; "One thief to rule them all along the Potomac" -- it's heavy stuff. But while he's certainly passionate, Cruz frames his words as poetry, so they don't come off as preachy. He also has some vocal similarity to Alkaline Trio's Matt Skiba, which makes sense, considering that band's own move toward a more melodic yet still punk-derived sound. With their energetic pace and mix of love and morbidity, "Vampire" and "Her Name in Blood" would fit well on the Trio's Good Mourning. Despite Exile in Oblivion's tightly wound melodic sense and richer lyrical range, Strung Out still looks to hardcore for its aggression, as the choppy percussion and ringing instrumental breaks of "Lucifermotorcade" and "Scarlet" prove. But "No Voice of Mine" and "Anna Lee" feel like the album's centerpieces, as both incorporate punk-pop thrills into more creative arrangements that nevertheless retain a strong rhythmic drive perfect for video game soundtracks or skateboard Saturdays. If they're the sound of Strung Out's future, the veteran quintet is definitely on the right track.
AllMusic Review by Johnny Loftus