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District 97 - Screens CD (album) cover


District 97


Crossover Prog

3.44 | 32 ratings

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4 stars District 97 is a Crossover Prog band from Chicago, IL that was founded in 2006 by the quartet Jonathan Schang, Rob Clearfield, Patrick Mulcahy and Sam Krahn, and their style of music was a more complex style of instrumental music. The band later made the decision to move away from instrumental music by hiring a vocalist, and American Idol finalist named Leslie Hunt. At this point, the music moved to a more accessible style and the band was signed to a label after which they released their first album in 2010.

In October of 2019, the band released their 4th full-length studio album called 'Screens'. The band line up now consists of Leslie Hunt on vocals, Andrew Lawrence on keyboards and additional guitar, Jim Tashjian on guitar, Tim Seisser on bass, and Jonathan Schang on drums and percussion. Even though Jim Tashjian was not part of the original line-up, he did become guitarist after Sam Krahn left and played on the first album. Only Leslie, Jim and Jonathan were part of the debut album and, as noted, the band has seen several line-up changes through the years. This album has a total of 9 tracks and a total run time of 49 minutes.

Interestingly enough, the band does retain a certain level of complexity in their melodies, even in the lyrical content and the vocals. Leslie's vocals are pretty decent and fit the music well. She has a talent for phrasing which is important in this style of music. The instrumental solos and backup are quite well done too. The music is a bit dark and the guitars and bass are heavy. The band claims that the music prior to producing records was along the lines of Liquid Tension Experiment, and after hearing this album, I find more credence in that claim, though I haven't heard their pre-album music. Now, however, the music is not as complex as that, but it does still retain enough complexity to keep it all interesting, and several listenings might be required for many people to appreciate everything that is going on.

While the opener 'Forest Fire' is fast and heavy, 'Sheep' is more dynamic, moving from quiet, thoughtful passages to sections that feature jazzy piano riffs to other parts that are quite progressive and heavy. The music is not really neo-prog though as it seems to veer more towards a heavy sound, but still doesn't settle in that sub-genre either, hence, Crossover prog is a good place for the band, but it might be surprising to some that there is still a high level of complexity here. 'Sea I Provide' is a more heavy rock centered track, less complex, but also short, perfect for a single. The guitar hook is great, but the vocals still hold a bit of complexity, but it flows along easily and follows a more traditional lyrical structure.

Jim joins Leslie on vocals on 'Bread & Yarn' which begins pensively with a nice melody and a hesitant keyboard accompaniment. Halfway through the 2nd go round with the verse, the drums suddenly kick in and the music begins to intensify and get more complex. There is then a nice progressive section, and both vocalists still sing together, then the music calms again around 5 minutes, then becomes a bit unsettling as rolling drums and experimental guitar sounds come in, then suddenly drive the music to a heavier section with a great guitar solo with a lot of power and interesting phrasing. It turns out to be a pretty good track, but it is a bit frustrating when it fades out. This kind of fading out is a pet peeve for me, why not just finish the track instead of leaving it hanging like that.

'Trigger' features Leslie's solo vocals again with the heavy sound again and the tricky rhythms and lyrics. I find it impressive the way she makes the vocals fit the complexity of the music, it definitely shows her high level of musicianship. The ending on this one is a bit chaotic. There is a short interlude with 'After Orbit Mission' where atmospheric electric guitars and dark synths play eerie lines. 'Shapeshifter' is definitely reflective of the Liquid Tension Experiment style, and dynamics become more important in this track as it goes from heavy to softer, jazz fusion leanings with the complex vocals following right along. Sudden shifts to heaviness attribute to the progressiveness of the music and the track alternates easily between the styles, shifting shapes just like alluded to in the title.

'Blueprint' is obviously a lighter textured track, but the music still remains surprisingly complex with some cool tempo shifts and mood changes. The changes are driven by the vocals, guitar and drums as everything flows smoothly from one shift to another. It's actually quite impressive and repeated listenings will convince you that this is pretty amazing and progressive music. 'Ghost Girl' ends the album with a 10+ minute track. It starts off with Leslie's vocals weaving around and about with a piano playing interesting flourishes along with her. At the end of the 2nd verse, a solid and heavy guitar ushers in the band. The lyrics are quite important on this track and attest to Leslie professionalism and talent. The organ that is added to it all will bring in a somewhat retro progressive feeling towards the middle of the track. This complex track continues in this style through the remainder of the song, again with shifting moods and styles to match the somewhat psychotic nature of the lyrics. Leslie plays the part quite well.

This album is more of a surprise to me than anything. I keep finding things about it that keep impressing me, and, quite honestly, I wasn't expecting anything like this not being that familiar with the band previous to hearing this album. It's complex, yet it's not over the top complexity. There is huge amount of progressiveness to the music, and Leslie is quite an impressive vocalist and musician, and so are the other band members. It takes a high degree of musicianship to play this kind of music as well as they do. This is one that I can see will continue to grow and impress over time. It's not what I would call essential, but it is quite excellent and the performances from everyone involved are quite impressive.

TCat | 4/5 |


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