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District 97 - Hybrid Child CD (album) cover

HYBRID CHILD

District 97

Crossover Prog


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5 stars Progressive rock is a curious beast. Rising from the psychedelia of Britain's late 60s, its heyday was some forty years ago. Of its reputation, album side-long suites, extensive soloing and cosmic album covers remain their legacy, one that is both revered by some, and dubious to others. It wasn't a total flash however, though flashy playing was certainly central to it. The mainstays, Yes, Genesis, Emerson Lake & Palmer, etc, still enjoy that infamy to this very day. After all, prog rock was a thing of excess, but one where more was truly more. It was big - gigantic, in fact. It had scale. Eventually however, the Goliath of a dinosaur met its David in a bunch of young punks. Nowadays, prog rock unfortunately resembles something a little more dated; the live experience resides in festivals, tribute bands and men in their forties, fifties, and sixties. So it's easy to forget that prog rock was once vital and exciting. Don't get me wrong, there is still plenty that is good about progressive rock, and like most of its adherents, I'm a total obsessive. I simply love the stuff. After all, the music was and still is an adventure for the listener. But what relevance does prog rock have now, in the year 2010? Has it really made some sort of come back? Chat boards reel with prospects of a return - perhaps the second or third coming - of an old legend, even though you can probably count on your hands the number of bands that have succeded in creating something really new. With decades, rather than years, now pass between albums, new offerings from the old guard are still feverishly anticipated, though they rarely sell more than well-packaged reissues. Tribute bands draw legions of the faithful, but really, isn't it just a guilty bite of nostalgia? More recently, some newer groups have started to wave the prog banner, discard it, then drape it back on when fitting, while others just provide a carbon copy to an original and then lay claim to influencing anything remotely close to it. Ahem. So what happens when a bunch of twenty year olds bill themselves as Chicago's premiere progressive rock band? You check them out. Hailing from suburban Oak Park, District 97 is led by drummer and primary composer Jonathan Schang, along with two childhood friends: Patrick Mulcahy on bass and Rob Clearfield on 'boards. Guitarist Jim Tashjian and vocalist Leslie Hunt are slightly later additions, friends from their days at Roosevelt University. And the cellist, Katinka Kleijn, is on loan from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, though her attendance in the live unit is unfortunately more mythical than present. But they're all consummate professionals, and despite their short years, each musician has a CV to back it up, whether it's playing with the likes of Goran Ivanovic or Fareed Haque, in a jazz combo, a Velvet Underground cover band, or as a finalist on American Idol. Hybrid Child is D97's debut album. How fitting a title it is for an album of prog rock performed by a group of their (lack of) vintage. Rock music has been around for some five or six decades now. And with the ubiquity of the internet, every bit of its history is available to either enjoy - or completely ignore. So maybe it isn't so strange that a group of young musicians would pick up on prog rock and set their course towards its horizon. The pair of tracks that open the album, "I Don't Wanna Wait Another Day" and "I Can't Take You With Me", could have another life outside the prog context; while D97's sense for pop melody and an overtly simplistic lyric yank those lured in by the Idol connection, they're much more than mere fodder for the masses - whether they need to be or not. Next pair of tracks raise the bar further as they fully embrace the progressive: "The Man That Knows Your Name" rides their signature gun-metal rhythm, but it's those carefully orchestrated passages of unison and the huge symphonic refrain that not only cement them as prog, but even lend a nod to the most revered of Italian classics. "Termites" takes it into another, more concurrent direction. Yes, there's a fair amount of heavy in the D97 hybrid, and this one goes all the way to the proverbial eleven: the crunch is more aggressive, the vocal more relentless, and with head banging feverishly I'm expecting cookie monster vocals at any moment. Give me more! Well, clocking in at 27:36, the album's centerpiece "Mindscan" is about as more as it gets. Offering an epic length track of album-side proportion is risky business. But is it really prog rock enough for a band to just rely on how well they play their chops, or wear their influences on their sleeve? Okay, someone's listened to Yes. And Rush. And probably a few other legends from the classic era. Yet "Mindscan" is highly original and ambitious prog rock: ten sections of more atmospheric synths, more keyboard solos, more studio alchemy, more huge, sweeping melodies, more metal crunch; it's an epic track that's based on composition. And here's the best part - it's a musical journey. Throughout its instrumental and vocal sections, "Mindscan" delivers the kind of music that you close your eyes to, turn your ears on to, and travel off far inside your the mind. I might go as far as to call the track a "Close to the Edge" for the 21st century, but those would be some fairly large shoes to fill. Yet after living with the album for more than a few listens, I'm starting to believe that it's no exaggeration. D97 are big, you know - gigantic, like the prog of old. And with "Mindscan" they deliver the epitome of prog rock: the album-side long piece. Who the hell has done that lately? And then there's the voice. Who'd have ever thought a woman could sing prog rock with such authority? And with such conviction? No, I don't have issues with female vocalists, it's just that I haven't really heard a voice like hers in this context, and of the precious few that I have, never one quite this, um, ballsy. Leslie Hunt's talent is undeniable. But how will the prog cognoscenti react to her? That should be interesting! And the keyboardist, Rob Clearfield. He's slugged in quite a few fantastic solos throughout the record - just check out "Mindscan Part III: Realization". Can we only wish that he would write a solo record with such fury? And what about Jonathan Schang? A mild yet auspicious young man, he's the brain-child of D97 - composer, lyricist, manager, booking agent, and about to turn 27 years of age. What will the future hold for his young talent? And do I even need to mention Jim Tashjian, Patrick Mulcahy or Katinka Kleijn's contributions? Haven't you bought the album yet? Here's a secret: I've seen D97 live a few times now. The band's not only tight and energetic, it's downright gratuitous at times - perhaps the ultimate quality of a prog band. They also sport a vocalist with more stage presence than any idol, American or otherwise. D97 is in fact the real deal and I haven't been this excited about a band in a very, very long time. Yet I'm reminded again that this is just the beginning, the first release from a group of musicians who were born well-after the golden age of prog, and not a band with decades of experience behind them. Is Hybrid Child perfect? No, but neither is any other child. Yet as every parent knows, with a little encouragement, the future is filled with endless possibilities. Enter District 97 and see why prog rock just got a new lease on life.

Charles Snider Author, The Strawberry Bricks Guide To Progressive Rock

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Send comments to djfake (BETA) | Report this review (#297004)
Posted Wednesday, September 01, 2010 | Review Permalink
5 stars I would normally think of giving this album a 4/5, because it's not perfect. I'm giving it a 5/5 because PA reviewers are simply too quick on the 5 star button, and no album can really pierce through without a 5 star rating.

And boy does this album deserve to pierce through....

I really don't get the "Crossover" tag the PA editors put on District 97. If this is "Crossover Prog", then so is any of the Gabriel-era Genesis. it's da** good prog, with just the right amount of jazz to spice up the sauce without falling into musical masturbation. A young band with lots of promise, it's for me at least the most exciting album of the year so far (and there have been quite a few exciting albums this year, mostly from new bands; the older bands seem exhausted).

Don't let the pop sensibilities of Leslie Hunt fool you. She's got a voice that fits very naturally in this eclectic mix, and serves to ground the whole sound so it sticks. There's nothing wrong with a good hook; hell, Genesis were quite adept in that department. But although there's a pop- oriented vocalist involved, this is in no way Pop music. No way, no how.

Can't wait to see where they go next...

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Send comments to jjg.denis.robert (BETA) | Report this review (#299986)
Posted Tuesday, September 21, 2010 | Review Permalink
5 stars This is one strong debut album. Absolutely wow! It's a brilliant mix of pop and prog, like progressive pop. Or pop in opposition? Don't know what to call it, but it feels like a breath of fresh air in the world of progressive rock and takes the genre in a direction we're not completely familiar with. The music is pure progressive with a touch of jazz and classical music, but the vocals by Leslie Hunt gives a positive and poppy touch to the mix. I think this works really well and at least puts me in a good mood.

The single Can't Take You With Me has been around YouTube since May and, of course, the track appears on the album. The album version of the tune is even more interesting, since it's containing an instrumental part that was cut out of the single edit and also the intro is a few seconds longer. District 97 keeps the prog/pop vibe in the four opening songs of the album. The remaining tracks is a ten piece epic called Mindscan and is more of progressive randomness than previous tracks, proving the talents of each band member. And they sure got talent, this is sweet music to the ears!

5/5

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Send comments to Speedmouse (BETA) | Report this review (#300580)
Posted Sunday, September 26, 2010 | Review Permalink
3 stars I'm finding nothing new here--except the refreshing inclusion of violin. This group has some potential but mostly everything is very cliche and has already been done. Many times. It's always nice to hear a woman's voice in prog--as it is to hear less than typical rock instruments (like violin)--but the songwriting, performing, and too-polished feel need to soften and mature before anything really fresh or innovative comes out of this band. The two minute "Mindscan VII: Exploration" and "Mindscan X: Returning Home" are, to my mind, the album's highlights because of their CRIMSON-like time signature and ensemble performance challenges. Good but not quite excellent. Will look forward to the next.

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Send comments to BrufordFreak (BETA) | Report this review (#302400)
Posted Wednesday, October 06, 2010 | Review Permalink
4 stars Finally, a band in 2010 that has both excellent musicians AND excellent vocalists, thanks to Leslie Hunt (apparently an American Idol finalist - perhaps not the best reference!). Too many potentially good albums in 2010 have been ruined by poor lyrics and poor song delivery in the vocal department. District 97 have crafted an excellent album, with beautiful melodies, excellent use of the full range of instruments, including a cello. If you demand a bit more from your Prog than just stunning guitar and synth riffs (which this album has in spades), then this is well worth a listen. The opening tracks - I Don't Wanna Wait Another Day and I Can't Take You With Me - demonstrate the vocal talents of Hunt, and set up the listener for an entertaining 55 minutes.

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Send comments to Gilgamesh182 (BETA) | Report this review (#308467)
Posted Friday, November 05, 2010 | Review Permalink
TheGazzardian
PROG REVIEWER
2 stars Although I am giving this album something of a low rating, I still believe that there is a specific subset of people who will really enjoy it.

District97 could easily be described as a pop/prog/metal group and that would get the point across relatively well, yet in no way explain what it is about their music that really makes it appealing. The songs contained herein, especially the first 4, are each high energy songs that follow a more standard song convention. Unlike many prog-pop bands, they don't rely too much on the vocals (even though their vocalist is an American Idol finalist), and let the instruments have a lot of space to take the forefront. I consider this a good thing. The thing is - the instruments aren't really doing anything new for the most part. The guitarist uses a lot of metal riffs, the keys are a bit cheesy - but they are always catchy and upbeat, so even if they're not original, they are enjoyable.

Oh, but there is one aspect of this album that sets these guys apart, and that is Katinka Klejin, a classicaly trained Cellist from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. While adding classical music to rock is nothing new in the prog world, I truly believe that she is the real lifeblood behind the project that makes them worth hearing. Her classical cello playing creates a stark contrast between the more rock/metal/pop oriented music that the rest of the album consists of. There are even parts where I suspect that the scales that the keys and guitars are playing were influenced from her cello playing, because they sound much more classical in nature than the rest of the music. And to top it all off, although I am no cello master, it seems to me that Katinka is quite the gifted cellist. I can only hope her influence in the band grows, for I consider her influence synonymous with the bands quality.

Anyways, the first four songs are pleasant, if they tend to overstay their welcome by a bit (especially the first two tracks). The fifth song, which is split into ten parts, is probably what most prog fans are interested in though. Well, let me tell you, it is by far the best part of the album, not being weighed down by the pop and metal cliches or tiresome lengths of the first few tracks. The longest sections just surpass the three minute mark. It has a lot of good atmosphere, some great catchy moments, and the concept is interesting enough and pulled off pretty well.

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Send comments to TheGazzardian (BETA) | Report this review (#355051)
Posted Thursday, December 16, 2010 | Review Permalink
memowakeman
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Review originally posted at www.prog-sphere.com

Nice modern prog from USA!

District 97 are a young band from the United States whose first studio album was released in 2010, gaining recognition and good words from press and fans. With the addition of a female voice, the band took a direction that can be described as a light progressive rock, with a clear modern sound, but with some use of vintage elements such as keyboards. "Hybrid Child" features 14 compositions which actually can be reduced to 5, since the suite entitled "Mindscan" is divided in 10 pieces.

The album opens with "I Don't Want to Wait Another Day", a catchy track with repetitive vocals and a kind of metal-ish sound created by guitars and drums. Keyboards are pretty nice during the whole track, but what stands apart is the addition of a cello, which always appears in the right moment, when it is needed. The song is not bad at all, but it would have been better if it was shorter.

"I Can't Take You With Me" is one of their presentation cards, a progressive-pop track that can be loved or hated, due to its catchy sound, so while some may consider this an interesting song, others may say it is boring as hell and that it does not add anything new; both opinions are valid, and in a way I share both.

"The Man Who Knows Your Name" starts with some kind of heavy and coordinated sound, guitars and bass sharing the same lines, while drums seems to be on other road, which sounds coll. Later keyboards join and present a strong front that will complement the previously mentioned instruments. And last but not least, the cello appears a minute later, and it gives that special flavor to the music, this is a thing to highlight, it was a perfect decision to include a cello in District 97 sound. This is a completely progressive rock track (I remark that because of the usually pop label this band has), even when female voice appears and the style changes a little bit, it does not harm at all, actually, this is a really strong song that one can easily enjoy.

"Termites" returns to that kind of heavy oriented prog that the band offers, it has a nice contrast because in one hand they have guitars and drums playing heavy and loud, and in the other hand cello produces a delicate sound, and the voice is softer, as strong as she screams, her voice does not really share that sensation of power. The instrumental passages are pretty cool, I especially enjoy the keyboard solos. Nice track.

Now I have a little problem, because I have reached "Mindscan" which as I previously said is a long epic divided in ten parts, so what to do, should I review it as a whole, single but long song, or should I go part by part, actually I will tend to the latter. And that is because each part is in fact short, so I can easily talk about the ten passages. First of all, I have to say that I like this ambitious project, and I consider the band succeeded with it, additionally, if we know this is their debut album, then we have to be happy because surely they will delight us in the future.

The "Arrival" is a short and soft dreamy introduction that leads to "Entrance", which is a beautiful piano-oriented track, with a classical sound that is brightly accompanied by cello, creating such a great atmosphere. In "Realization" the music explodes and seems to be a chaos for more than 30 seconds, later a new passage appears and one can imagine things and situations. I like a lot (once again) the keyboard sound; this is one of my favorite parts of this suite. Then in "Welcome" vocals appear for the first time and create along with cello a very gently sound. Then we can listen to some bass lines just before vocals appear once again.

When "Examination" starts we can notice a big change because here the music fades and slows down, sharing only soft sounds that share a mysterious feeling, like if something is going to happen next. After a minute a whispering voice appears and that weird soft but tense sound prevails. It fades out and when the voice enters, we are actually listening to "Hybrid Child", a passage that perfectly follows its predecessor, the sound is charming and tranquilizing. Now, when everything seems to be like that (tranquilizing), "Exploration" invades us with a spontaneous heavier sound, with a good background atmosphere, nice drums and fast and hypnotizing guitars/keys/cello notes.

After that nice instrumental passage, vocals reappear in the very first second of "What do they want" ,and here the music continues as fast and heavier as the previous track. "When I Awake" is a piece I really like, since the first moments when the sound is like the previous song, passing through that calm moment when it slows down, until the heavier change when the chorus appears along with a cool guitar solo. This catchy piece may also be one of my favorites. And finally we reach the end with "Returning Home". You will know you are here when the skillful guitar appears opening the gates to that metal-ish sound. This last part is also an instrumental one, and a nice way of saying goodbye. The last minute is like the first part, dreamy and atmospheric.

This is a nice debut, with some great things to remember, and some to be improved, however I am happy with this District 97 offering.

Enjoy it!

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Send comments to memowakeman (BETA) | Report this review (#505735)
Posted Friday, August 19, 2011 | Review Permalink
Windhawk
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars US band DISTRICT 97 was formed in the fall of 2006, and the core line-up established a few months later with the addition of vocalist Leslie Hunt, arguably the only American Idol finalist to date that willingly has joined a band with a firm desire to create progressive rock. They released their debut album "Hybrid Child" in 2010, a production that soon got picked up by the US label Laser's Edge.

If you enjoy diverse music and a versatile approach to the art of creating progressive rock, District 97 is a band you might want to take notice of. They have talent in abundance, and a lead vocalist with an impressive voice and register. And while their debut effort "Hybrid Child" to my ears isn't a remarkable item as such, it is easy to fathom and understand their broad appeal. With a bit of luck and a lot of hard work they may well establish themselves as a household name in coming years, inside as well as outside of the art rock universe. The potential is there: time will tell if it gets to be unleashed.

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Send comments to Windhawk (BETA) | Report this review (#506256)
Posted Saturday, August 20, 2011 | Review Permalink
4 stars This young band from Chicago released their debut album in 2010 and have already gained a fan base and the boosting and enthusiastic approbation of musicians such as Bill Bruford, John Wetton and Jordan Rudess. They are - no doubts about it - a band with a future, a band you'll hear more and more, if they keep the musical integrity of their debut album and avoid all the cynical traps the music industry is known for. On that matter, their charming singer Leslie Hunt probably already knows quite a bit about it, having been a finalist in the entertainment program "American Idol". Her singing on "Hybrid Child" is thanks God much more enjoyable and she shows a great mastery in uneasy interval jumps coupled with daring syncopated rhythms. Her voice is pure, with a predilection in high registers. And what a lovely combination of hearing her thematic lines sung in unisson with the firm cello playing of her band mate Katinka Kleijn. And they have a lot to do, as the boys in the band push hard and often give the music a metal character crossed with the chops of math-rock. The composer is drummer Jonathan Schang and when you hear him playing, you understand why Bill Bruford backed him! Keyboardist Rob Clearfield is answering the metal assaults of guitarist Jim Tashjian and bass player Patrick Mulcahy with key flights directly coming from progressive rock, sustained by Jonathan's pulsating pounding. So here's the new generation of progressive rock, young people with various but also multiple backgrounds (pop and jazz for Leslie, classical for Katinka, doom metal for Jim, etc...), having listened to and performed in several musical styles; they're now together in district 97, you'll not forget them because ... they rule!

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Send comments to Music By Mail (BETA) | Report this review (#644431)
Posted Friday, March 02, 2012 | Review Permalink
apps79
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Neo Prog Team
3 stars A prog band featuring a former female American Idol finalist?Yes, that's the case with District 97 from Chicago, USA, found in 2006 by drummer Jonathan Schang, keyboardist Rob Clearfield, bassist Patrick Mulcahy and guitarist Sam Krahn, originally playing instrumental music, but the next year they proposed Leslie Hunt, a top 10 A.I. finalist, to join them on vocals.In 2008 Krahn leaves his place to Jim Tashjian, the band soon became a live beast and in 2010 they signed with the Laser's Edge label, that released the debut of the band ''Hybrid Child''.

The music of District 97 recalls the post-2000 sound of SPOCK'S BEARD, apparently scanning the fields of contemporary Progressive Rock with retro-styled structures, featuring quirky movements, powerful riffs, soaring synths and heavy organ breaks.The sound is very rich with plenty of great tempo changes and an impressive ability by the group to change from in-your-face guitar-led grooves and riffs to more symphonic- and vintage-sounding themes.Add a female vocalist with a young and clear voice, a good amount of careful melodies and a unique cellist, Katinka Kleijn, who delivers a few powerful string parts here and there, and you somewhat get the picture.The album even contains a very long epic track, divided in nine pieces, entitled ''Mindscan''.For the most of its part this is very nice music.Alternating between smoother soundscapes and more edgy passages, this one contains the basic components of District 97's musicianship with a touch of a more atmospheric approach.Angular guitar riffing, dominant cello, good vocals, sharp keyboards to go along with calm piano parts, spacey synths and grandiose textures, eventually creating a welcome 27-min. prog suite.

Very good debut, albeit a bit unpersonal.District 97 are a young and very tight group with lot of potential for the future.Recommended to a wide range of fans, from Symphonic Rock lovers to even die-hard Prog metallers.

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Send comments to apps79 (BETA) | Report this review (#929058)
Posted Tuesday, March 12, 2013 | Review Permalink

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