Jason Cruz and Howl - Wolves (Cover Artwork)

Jason Cruz and Howl

Wolves (2023)

liars club records

Most know Jason Cruz as the front man of the veteran Fat Wreck Chords band Strung Out. Jason has fronted that band for decades and is notorious for energetic live performances. Growing up in LA, Cruz has also been exposed to art and culture that has exposed him to other avenues for interpreting his vision. Back in 2012, Jason Cruz and Howl released their debut album “Loungecore” which exposed a different style from what most Strung Out fans are used to. Howl is influenced by roots Americana and country as much as punk rock to create both a sonic and visual experience for the listener. Jason Cruz and Howl have returned now with “Wolves” making their first album in almost a decade.

The dark soulful rocker “Swallow” kicks off the album. The melancholy intro leads up to the full band kicking in to enhance the message of the song. I feel most of the band’s songs are extremely subjective and open to interpretation. For me, this song deals with moving along beyond the sorrow. The title track “Wolves” follows. This song picks up the pace and commences with a fast and heavy guitar strum. This song reminds me greatly of Social Distortion’s “I Was Wrong” in being introspective about all the good and bad you went through growing up. On “Low Rider” the band takes more of a dark wave path. This song sounds like it was lifted off an 80’s soundtrack with hints of the Cure or Depeche Mode. This track showcases Jason’s ability to take a sexier approach than in Strung Out as he swoons through the vocals. “First Born Son” is another introspective number about looking for redemption over past mistakes. This track starts acoustically before the full band kicks in for a bombastic chorus. “Good Hands” to me is the highlight of the album overall. This track has the contemporary folk punk sound heard in bands such as Gaslight Anthem. This song could be a commercial radio staple. This song boasts great vocal range accompanied with a moving bassline that helps keep the groove. This song seems to focus on the feeling of comfort. On “Slowdive” the band slows things down a bit and goes mid-tempo. This track contains a solid bridge in the middle of the track to give a heavy hard rocking indie rock vibe. “Arizona Don’t Want Me” showcases the country influence of Howl in harmony and feel. The tempo remains steady throughout providing an easy listen for the audience. The band turns to a more contemporary alt-rock sound on “Somethin’ Close To Nuthin’” which follows. This is a steady rocker about being fine through hard times. Jason sings with a country twang on this number that enhances the vocal delivery. “Lurk” takes the listener back to the dark side on this country rocker which sounds like it could have been lifted from a Glenn Danzig solo release. Jason Cruz and Howl closes out this new collection of tracks with their take on the Strung Out song “Vampires” which first appeared on “Exile in Oblivion.” This version is very vocal and piano heavy. The song remains similar tempo wise to the original. The stripped-down instrumentation helps to enhance the lyrics of the song.

Jason Cruz has remained busy since the last Strung Out album “Songs of Armor and Devotion” from 2019. He has suffered loss which has affected him personally and professionally. These emotions and feelings come through these recordings. This album is almost a decade in the making and is more than worth the wait. This album succeeds in giving the listener an inside look into the mind of Jason Cruz.