Strung Out - Transmission.Alpha.Delta (Cover Artwork)

Strung Out

Transmission.Alpha.Delta (2015)

Fat Wreck Chords

Let’s get this out of the way: Those of you looking forward to Exile In Oblivion 2 are likely to be disappointed. This album does not deliver on that front. However, for those of you worried about (or perhaps looking forward to) Blackhawks over Los Angeles part 2, this album will definitely not deliver on that expectation either. Transmission Alpha Delta actually winds up carving out its own space, managing to maintain a sound and feel that belongs solely to this record, while still retaining Strung Out’s signature sound.

Transmission Alpha Delta represents a release that is far meatier than anything the band has put forward in the past decade. With 12 tracks clocking in at around 45 minutes, there is quite a lot of music to digest. There’s more staying power here than on the previous two releases. TAD is an improvement on the formula in almost every measurable category. There’s not so much a stylistic difference here as there is a lyrical and songwriting difference. In some ways this album actually feels a lot like what 2009's Agents of the Underground was trying to achieve, but never fully accomplished. I found myself progressively liking the band’s previous two releases a bit less as time wore on, but through more than twenty listens that problem is thankfully not the case here. This is an album that absolutely necessitates numerous listens to fully appreciate.

In terms of both the lyrical delivery and content, singer Jason Cruz absolutely excels here. Cruz plays around primarily in a higher vocal range than he has on any Strung Out album to date, and it really pays off. He sounds great on this album. The lyrical content here is also more interesting than it has been in quite some time and strays from any potholes or major missteps. This is clearly Cruz’s best album as a lyricist and songwriter since Exile in Oblivion. Background vocals are used sparingly but effectively on TAD, with only a few rare instances with anyone other than Cruz singing. It’s a great choice for the album to have Cruz provide his own backups, but may make these songs seem a bit disappointing when performed live when one singer can’t be everywhere at once.

As far as song structures go, TAD consists of arrangements that are a bit less formulaic than the previous two releases, while still sticking to a somewhat “tried and true” script. The leads are overall more interesting and there are generally just more moving parts involved in each song than the band's previous two albums. However, the album could have benefited from a few more off tempo components than what are on display here. TAD rarely strays off the well-worn track, which is a bit unfortunate since some of Strung Out’s most interesting work has been those songs that just completely take left turns into weirdsville. They haven’t had that Element (heh) to their songwriting in a while, and not much has really changed on that front. Another unfortunate issue with Transmission Alpha Delta is that there is only one guitar solo on the entire album. Some of the leads here are absolutely outstanding, but the lack of guitar solos was an odd and largely unwelcome choice (particularly since the one solo found on “Black Maps” absolutely slays).

As far as individual tracks go, there are numerous standouts here. “Black Maps” is undoubtedly going to be a fan favorite. It’s a track that is just very strong with harmonized guitar parts that are somewhat reminiscent of “Vampires” from Exile in Oblivion. Other tracks, such as “Tesla”, offer something completely new and completely welcome. A lot of the best songwriting on the album can actually be found towards the back end of the album, with tracks “Go It Alone” (an uplifting successor and counterpart to 2009's “Vanity”) and “Westcoasttrendkill” (easily the best closer Strung Out has written since Matchbook) making up some of the stronger tracks on the back end. Overall, there really isn't a bad track on the entire album. Modern Drugs is probably the least interesting song, even with its very unique intro consisting of some of the mellowest stuff Strung Out has written to date. I actually would have preferred to hear the song continue along those lines rather than where it ends up going.

In terms of production, this is the best Strung Out has sounded in a long time. The mix on this album just absolutely nails it. Whereas Agents of the Underground at times sounded a bit like swimming through mud, the sound on TAD is crisp, loud, up front, and immediate. Everything is right where it should be. It seems like the delay on this album paid off in this respect, as the band finally found a producer that was able to match the quality and intensity of the music.

This is Strung Out’s strongest album in over a decade. It’s been a long time coming.