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DISTRICT 97

Crossover Prog • United States


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District 97 biography
Founded in Chicago, USA in 2006

US act DISTRICT 97 was formed in the fall of 2006, initially consisting of Jonathan Schang (drums), Rob Clearfield (keys), Patrick Mulcahy (bass) and Sam Krahn (guitars). Instrumental rock in the vein of Liquid Tension Experiment was their thing from the onset, but when they decided that their music could use a vocalist changes were about to unfurl.

Enter American Idol finalist Leslie Hunt (vocals). Her vocal provess soon started changing the band's stylistic directions, compositions merging challenging and adventurous instrumental sequences with accessible and catchy vocal passages a direct result of her influence on events. The addition of Katinka Kleijn (cello) further expanded the band's musical canvas, and when Krahn decided to opt out, young and talented guitarist Jim Tashjian proved to be the final piece of the puzzle District 97 needed to finalize their stylisitc search.

District 97 signed to Laser's Edge Records in May 2010, and their debut album Hybrid Child was released in September the same year.

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DISTRICT 97 discography


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DISTRICT 97 top albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

3.48 | 108 ratings
Hybrid Child
2010
3.93 | 161 ratings
Trouble With Machines
2012
3.58 | 56 ratings
In Vaults
2015
3.49 | 21 ratings
Screens
2019

DISTRICT 97 Live Albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

3.60 | 10 ratings
Live at Calprog
2010
3.89 | 9 ratings
Live at WFPK FM
2012
3.13 | 16 ratings
One More Red Night: Live In Chicago (with John Wetton)
2014

DISTRICT 97 Videos (DVD, Blu-ray, VHS etc)

0.00 | 0 ratings
Septennial {Return To RoSfest} Live
2019

DISTRICT 97 Boxset & Compilations (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

DISTRICT 97 Official Singles, EPs, Fan Club & Promo (CD, EP/LP, MC, Digital Media Download)

4.08 | 5 ratings
Quartet for the End of Time
2010

DISTRICT 97 Reviews


Showing last 10 reviews only
 Screens by DISTRICT 97 album cover Studio Album, 2019
3.49 | 21 ratings

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Screens
District 97 Crossover Prog

Review by kev rowland
Special Collaborator Honorary Reviewer

3 stars District 97 have changed quite a bit since their original creation as an instrumental rock band back in 2006 when the line-up was Jonathan Schang (drums), Rob Clearfield (keys), Patrick Mulcahy (bass) and Sam Krahn (guitars). The band made quite a change in direction when they came across singer Leslie Hunt who had previously been a semi-finalist in 2007's American Idol, and this is their fourth album since then. There have been some changes in the line-up over the years, but although Krahn had been replaced by Jim Tashjian before 2010's debut album, founders Mulcahy and Clearfield were still around for the last album, 2015's 'In Vaults', but have also since departed. So, the line-up is currently Hunt, Tashijan and Schang plus new members Andrew Lawrence (keyboards, additional guitar) and Tim Seisser (bass).

It must be said this is quite an unusual album in many ways, as not only is there a bringing together of multiple different styles, but there are times when it really doesn't work and times when it really does. There is no doubt whatsoever that Hunt is a wonderful singer, and I was surprised to realise how much she reminded me of P!nk, not only in the tone and range but also the way she uses a catch in her voice at times to provide a certain inflection. She's not coming to this like a progressive or classical singer, but someone with far more of a pop rock sound. As for the band, they are as tight as one can imagine, with keyboards often being a very important part of the sound and guitars even non-existent, although there are times when they are certainly front and centre. For me the issue here is that the band don't seem to have settled on what they want to achieve, so a basic power ballad can turn into something else with dominant fusion drums, but does that change it, make it better, or is a detraction?

It is a very polished album, with plenty of harmony vocals and layers, but it also feels very commercial even for a crossover release. There are passages and sections here I absolutely love, but others where it just feels too bland. Mike Portnoy is quoted as saying, "District 97 continue to prove to be one of the most unique bands in modern Prog!". I'll agree with that statement in that I haven't come across another band quite like it, and for someone from American Idol to have made a move in this direction should be highly applauded as it must been done for the love of the music as opposed to being about making money, but for me there is something missing, no core reality.

 Screens by DISTRICT 97 album cover Studio Album, 2019
3.49 | 21 ratings

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Screens
District 97 Crossover Prog

Review by alainPP

3 stars DISTRICT 97 is a group of Illinois who started playing in 2006. In 2010 released his first CD, "Hybrid Child", which had startled me by his arrangements a little crazy. You could find there a prog rock sublimated by the eccentric voice of Leslie Hunt; rock metal a bit technical, condensed sounds pulling ZAPPA, to FRIPP towards LIQUID TENSION EXPERIMENT, to breaks of FAITH NO MORE of "Angel Dust," then breaks rave and a title more than 27 minutes out standard! In short, a group with an asterisk to follow! Note that they have released a live with the presence of John Wetton. Bill Bruford also spoke of them, which shows that the group has something different and unique in the musical world today!

"Forest Fire" begins the album with a riff rock metal, an air groove trend with the female voice of Leslie in line with what was admirably Joe Jackson in its infancy; there are also an almost disconcerting jazzy rhythm, the air becomes epileptic, on the border merger, the chorus am back in the eponymous album of ANYONE who worked in her punk- metal crazy but oh so innovative. "Sheep" in the intro riff planing and energetic exudes a strange, strange with this nasty metal riff and phrasing that seems to glide above logically, bringing us to a building where TOOL, KING CRIMSON or Faith No More could be cited as inspiring, but also in part 2 ZAPPA more jazzy, more "frippienne" too; Attention plays more will be needed to sink into this musical world if you did not know District 97 before that note! "Sea I Provide" little piece more dancing, more pop, more rhythmic and also a low ubiquitous piece to take as an interlude. "Brain and Yarn" comes for the first slap of the album: warm electric piano to Joe Jackson, dual voice of Leslie and Jim quite plaintive, orgasmic rise and crescendique (yes it is a neologism but I like! ) while pace; as the first chords could leave a little circumspect about his singular as there is left for osmosis: note the second part with sax pulling more on the atmosphere "crimsonienne" than that of LIQUID TENSION EXPERIMENT, that they quoted often willingly in their infancy, to listen urgently. "Trigger" from there on a warm way, more curved and less brutal with more singing voice and giving reply to the guitar riff; it becomes energetic, time to take us back to phrasing and an explosive end enjoyable.

"After Orbit Mission" and the interlude that kills a bass Tim who sends us on Jupiter or Saturn, as did so Michael Anthony of Van Halen in its time, it's just perfect, time to continue with "Shapeshifter" very rhythmic groove again and there an informed voice, airy, jazzy, leading us on a rhythmic way and finesse, the bass is again paying a pure moment of happiness before the keyboard are put some of its lug; polyrhythms seem here to give meaning to his a priori unstructured but eventually organized. "Blueprint" occurs on a jazzy air SADE, drums with delicacy, giving choirs in search of masters, DREAM THEATER or LIQUID TENSION experment again for singular solo; Voice linking almost sounds too incisive with angelic delicacy. "Ghost Girl" arrives for the second slap to the album soft voice, almost whispered, basic piano to set the tone and nervous break even with this phrasing heard of ANYONE (2001'll see it's also amazing!) or that of Faith No More Mike Patton; So the pace up a notch, the voice becomes more present and back to a more manageable pace, this voice seems to stick to instruments, unless it is they who follow the convolutions of Leslie brief when I say that the prog death is a fact, but DISTRICT 97 with its own musicality recalls that children and small children-may give resurgence in the years 2010 and 2020;

DISTRICT 97 so that the crossover prog, this word does not speak to me, too encompassing genres, too many different groups. District 97 is the intelligent music, original music, good music. DISTRICT 97 creates a sound crucible of tunes, sounds quite new and charming; I leave you, I turn to listen even if it is not my favorite genre; I'm me without noticing!

 Screens by DISTRICT 97 album cover Studio Album, 2019
3.49 | 21 ratings

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Screens
District 97 Crossover Prog

Review by TCat
Special Collaborator Eclectic / Prog Metal / Heavy Prog Team

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.

 Screens by DISTRICT 97 album cover Studio Album, 2019
3.49 | 21 ratings

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Screens
District 97 Crossover Prog

Review by javajeff

4 stars District 97 sounds like no other band. The signature sound encapsulates the singing and phrasing of Leslie Hunt along with the compositions and impeccable drumming of Jonathan Schang. Jim Tashjian on Guitar has been there from the beginning, and never lets you down. This is a crossover prog band with heavy prog tendencies. Often the music is dark and heavy with some jazz undertones. With this new album Screens, District 97 adds some variety with songs like Bread & Yarn where Leslie is more of a background vocalist to some solid male vocals. It reminded me of Mostly Autumn in the way they use both types of vocals. The effect is captivating, and creates a memorable track in the middle of the album. The rest of the album is more accessible than previous efforts with a focus on songwriting. Trigger or Forest Fire is a prime example of this, and it is not necessarily a bad thing. However, it still has several tempo changes to keep the compositions interesting. The more I listen to it, the more it grows on me. Another solid effort from the band.
 One More Red Night: Live In Chicago (with John Wetton) by DISTRICT 97 album cover Live, 2014
3.13 | 16 ratings

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One More Red Night: Live In Chicago (with John Wetton)
District 97 Crossover Prog

Review by memowakeman
Special Collaborator Honorary Collaborator

3 stars A nice live album for melancholic moments.

In the early years of the current decade I was introduced to District 97's music, a band of young and great US musicians that make great progressive rock in the symphonic vein, since then, I've been following their releases and wishing to see them on stage sometime, fortunately to me, I will be able to see them live really soon when I fly to Chicago for the Progtober Fest in its 3rd edition.

It was also in Chicago where the band recorded this live album, in which the amazing John Wetton was invited to play. As the title suggests (One More Red Night), the concert was a kind of tribute to King Crimson, playing songs in which Wetton participated and we all remember well, just one out of the 9 songs is not from the Wetton-KC era.

Listening now to this live album creates two different nostalgias, one is the natural one of listening to him singing his memorable KC songs, and the other is simply listening to him, because he passed away this current 2017. It is also great to see such a legend sharing the stage with younger and talented musicians such as District 97, so together created a nice album and gave a cool live experience.

The versions here are of course a bit different, the band kept the spirit of the original tracks, but naturally, they put their own sound on them. Leslie Hunt helped with some vocals, we are used to listen to her as the main District 97 singer, but this time she nicely gave way to John's voice, which by the way had not the potential of his early years, which is something we can understand.

My favorite songs here are: "Lament", "The Night Watch", "Book of Saturday" and "Easy Money". I wanted to write this review because I am excited to see the band live, playing of course their original music, but they are also playing a special tribute to John Wetton, so I guess some of the songs featured here will be played.

Si in the end this is a good live album that will make you jump to the past with a smile on your face. Enjoy it!

 In Vaults by DISTRICT 97 album cover Studio Album, 2015
3.58 | 56 ratings

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In Vaults
District 97 Crossover Prog

Review by Aussie-Byrd-Brother
Special Collaborator Rock Progressivo Italiano Team

4 stars American female fronted hard prog band District 97 are now three albums into their career, and the band seem more inspired and completely devoted to the progressive rock cause than ever on their third album, 2015's `In Vaults'. Like on their previous releases, the band offer a mix of gutsy and heavy tunes that work in plenty of fragmented little twists, all driven by little Leslie Hunt's big massive powerhouse voice. A mix of hard-rock, tough near-ballads and lengthier prog-rock workouts, the band are just as likely to drop into jazzy diversions, or some out and out proggy keyboard wig-outs, but always the tune remains the priority, and `In Vaults' keeps the band truly progressing, honing their skills and challenging themselves nicely.

As usual for their albums, repeat listens is an absolute must. On the first couple of spins, the album, like their previous ones, sounds like a bit of a mess of styles and ideas, and it's either a little too straightforward or darting off in too many directions! But repeated plays show the different styles and tunes flowing well together, where the transitions between passages are expertly delivered with cleverness and subtlety. Despite always remaining melodic, there's nothing on this album that is overtly aimed at commercial radio station play (even when, if the current musical climate were different, it would probably be a great idea for the band to deliver many pieces with that audience in mind), and considering Hunt's background (the fact she was an ex-finalist on an early season of `American Idol' is still hugely fascinating for us prog-snobs!), it's really admirable that she has stuck with and remains firmly committed to this proggy/hard rock band, surely the more satisfying direction for her! Another plus are the intelligent and unobvious lyrics written by all the members, challenging and interesting without ever becoming completely self-indulgent or difficult.

First track `Snow Country' grinds back and forth between Opeth-like acoustic guitar laments and harder distorted mud-thick electric riffing, and a versatile vocal from Leslie moves from angelic reflection to unhinged danger! The mix of electric piano amongst the heavy guitars that will also pop up constantly throughout the disc even reminds of French band Nemo, and the piece pulls together into a catchy chorus here and there too. The brilliantly titled `Death by a Thousand Cuts' bristles with snarling danger, full of wild drum fills, Hammond organ blasts, mangled soloing guitar noise and relentless purring bass that strive for a Dream Theater-like technical workout! The next two pieces slow things down and step aside from the heaviness, and `Handlebars' floats with a classy and brilliantly controlled vocal from Leslie, with smooth multi-tracked harmonies and backing voices from the group, plus there's a cool bubbling Hammond organ solo in the middle. `A Lottery' is one of the most mature tracks from the group yet, slow-burn electric guitar simmers, cascading electric piano tiptoes and even loopy Moog spins.

`All's Well That Ends Well' broods with power, and moments of wistful piano and a dreamy vocal lurch to life with King Crimson/`Red'-era skittering drumming, programmed electronic trickles and heroic Moog and Hammond fanfares. Sweaty groover `Takeover' smoulders with a spunky vocal and dirty bluesy guitars, and while `On Paper' holds male/female vocal country rock/bluesy verses, it leads to a ballsy chorus, a thrashing heavy run in the middle and even a stream-of-consciousness Gentle GIant-flavoured quirky break for good measure! The album then concludes on the two longest and most adventurous pieces, first up `Learn From Danny' mixes heavy grunting guitars, mysterious piano, slinking jazz sophistication with a victorious guitar finale, and the I.Q-like Moog and synth runs and Neo-Prog flavours are a welcome surprise that the band pull off beautifully. Stringed instruments weave through the eleven and a half minute closer `Blinding Vision', a melancholic epic of theatrical drama and powerful build. Male/female vocals in perfect unison, doomed piano, plodding drums and despondent guitars raise the tension, and careful cymbal crashes and electric piano ambience calls to mind early King Crimson moments. This overpowering, sombre finale is a very sobering way to close the disc, but is a brave and defiant choice by the band.

With this album now done and dusted, 2016 is going to be an interesting time for the group. Keyboard player Robert Clearfield and bassist Patrick Mulcahy have since departed, but their replacements are already locked in place, so hopefully there's plenty of life and inspiration left in the group to come. But for now, this serves as a nice wrap-up of the current version, and considering it was realised by the crowd-funding efforts of their loyal fanbase, District 97 delivered the very best of their abilities on this superb work. `In Vaults' is a confident and exciting musical statement of intent from a talented young group more devoted than ever before to proper progressive rock, and is their most diverse, mature and strongest collection to date.

Four stars - and bonus points for beautiful Leslie looking the spitting-image of 60's Grace Slick in the CD booklet!

 One More Red Night: Live In Chicago (with John Wetton) by DISTRICT 97 album cover Live, 2014
3.13 | 16 ratings

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One More Red Night: Live In Chicago (with John Wetton)
District 97 Crossover Prog

Review by Matti
Prog Reviewer

3 stars DISTRICT 97 is a young American band that has been praised by one or two musicians from the King Crimson camp, or so I've heard. This live album was my first acquaintance with the band. I certainly would have preferred it to be with their own material. The set is completely devoted to the songs of KING CRIMSON (the John Wetton era, plus '21st Century Schizoid Man' originating from the 1969 debut) and the vocals are by Wetton himself, so... For starters, there's no use of searching any notably new point of view to these classic prog songs, even if the band's own female vocalist Leslie Hunt can be heard a little, too. Too little.

The skillful musicians of District 97 do their job extremely well and very faithfully to the originals. Only in 'Starless' I miss the mighty Mellotron sound (there's a little hollow synth backing instead), and that song is somewhat watered down here also due to the abridged song version. Wetton is in good shape though.

I'm satisfied with 'The Night Watch' and 'Book of Saturday', two of my Wetton era Crimso favourites besides 'Starless'. And with 9 songs I suppose the song output of the era is being covered almost completely -- there aren't any instrumentals. But frankly, to me this kind of a CD is hardly nothing else than a curiosity, quite useless in practice. OK, now I know this band is an excellent cover act of King Crimson material. Apparently too blinded by the respect for both Wetton and the music, to bring their own material /personality /individuality as a group to the set. If it was a DVD it would be another case, much more justified as a release.

 In Vaults by DISTRICT 97 album cover Studio Album, 2015
3.58 | 56 ratings

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In Vaults
District 97 Crossover Prog

Review by Wicket
Prog Reviewer

2 stars I'm not going to review this album through my typical track-by-track summary, not because I don't want to, but rather, I really can't with this album.

And that's a shame, because I really want to like this album. I really do. And the fact that I can't do a track-by-track summary explains its most fatal flaw. A track-by-track summary highlights all the great moments in each track.

But I can't do that with this album, because I can't remember ANYTHING on this album. Seriously.

I will correct myself from this standpoint. It's not the sound quality that bothers me (the quality is very good actually), what bothers me is the sound of the guitars. They sound way too grungy 90% of the time, and it just doesn't fit the character and nature of this album. Singer Leslie Hunt sounds beautiful here, and I really like the incorporation of jazz and blues scales here. It's a nice touch, but they're both constantly set in opposition to the guitars, and it's a conflict of interest, where neither side is winning and both sides lose, and it hurts their sound and this album.

Don't get me wrong, though, these guys know how to rock out, they can shred like no one's business (as on "Hybrid Child"). The problem still remains from their first debut album, though: "They just don't know what to play".

And frankly that's one of the pitfalls of this generation of bands. Genre walls and stereotypes have been knocked down, so you can essentially play whatever you want and no one's going to think differently. The problem is that because you can play whatever genre you want, doesn't necessarily mean that all combinations of genres are going to work together, and I can hear many different genres on this album: Blues, grunge, classic prog, radio rock, piano ballads. They're all great genres. Put them all together on the same album, though? Ehhhhhhhhhh....

Songs like "Snow Country" and "On Paper" are great tracks, identities in themselves that work brilliantly, whereas others like "All's Well That End Well", "Handlebars", "A Lottery", they're just completely lost on me, no catchy hook, no purposeful direction, no signature flash. Nothing. "Learn From Danny" is an excellent example. It starts off beautifully, but I can't enjoy it because i know it'll change dramatically from then on out and never sound as good, and sure enough less than a minute in, a Hunt verse fades out into a guitar solo like the traditional end of huge prog epics, as if the song is already over, and from then on out weird phrase. awkwardly transitions into weird phrase. Coming from Between The Buried And Me's latest albums, these transitions are jarring and uncomfortable, proving just how difficult music like this is to perform.

This, to me, is another example of proof that these guys still don't know what kind of music to play, from beautiful, string laden ballads, to Nirvana-esque grunge, to shades of Morse-era Spock. It sounds brilliant "On Paper" (heh, I made a pun), but the aural results just aren't there, and it really makes me sad. This gang has the talent and ability to breakout, and this should have been their breakout album, but they just haven't put it all together yet.

Perhaps this IS the sound they're looking for (it's been noticeable since "Hybrid Child", and if the song remains the same going forward, than this isn't the band for me. Still, there's oodles and oodles of promise for these guys (and gals) to put their heads together and create a full album that's full and rich and smooth, not at all disjointed and conflicting like this album. "Blinding Vision" gives hope, at least. It closes out the album with a saving grace. It's the most polished of all the songs, and I hope it (somewhat) follows that kind of direction going forward.

After "Hybrid Child" and "Troubles With Machines", I'd be moronic to call this album a "setback". The best way I can sum this all up? It's still a work in progress.

Highlights: "Snow Country", "Blinding Vision:", "On Paper"

 Hybrid Child by DISTRICT 97 album cover Studio Album, 2010
3.48 | 108 ratings

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Hybrid Child
District 97 Crossover Prog

Review by Wicket
Prog Reviewer

3 stars The discovery of District 97 has always confounded me. Sure the American Idol finalist Leslie Hunt makes for an interesting footnote, one worthy of intrigue. Still, I just wasn't sure exactly where this band was going to go style wise.

I'm not even going to bother reviewing the newer albums, mainly because to my musical ear, the quality has diminished drastically, and the material just isn't captivating or groundbreaking. Personally, I believe this debut effort is by far their best work so far, and even then it's not a brilliant album in comparison to other bands of similar caliber.

The opener starts off with a catchy chorus, it's the kind of hook that wants to drag you in, but it's instantly noticeable from beat 1 that this is no ordinary radio band. So the first few three minutes entertain me for a good time, until the band fades into this b-section I honestly can't remember anything about, before coming back to the main chorus roughly 50 seconds from the end. "I Can't Take You With Me" suffers the same effect. The main theme almost sounds akin to classic Dream Theater riffs, and while I like the melodic progression singer Hunt takes, apart from the organ-like bridge in the middle, it's not really moving me much.

"The Man Who Knows Your Name" suffers the same effect. The instrumental opening sounds like it's designed to be a prog metal intro, meant to shake and rattle and bring the house down, but it honestly sounds half-assed, a bit tinny, and seriously, I almost laughed at how pathetic it sounded at times. I'm not being mean at all, but there's something about the quality that this band has always struggled with, and it's mainly due to the quality. The licks and solos in this particular song are honestly, fantastic. These guys can shred, no lie. They just seriously need a completely new studio and recording crew. Quality issues aside, though, this is of the standouts on this album.

"Termites" is another intriguing prospect. It's not so much a quality issue, but rather the grungy, dirty opening the band foreshadows should've been met with the same approach from Hunt, but at times her voice seems a bit too delicate. Perhaps if the volume dropped considerably once she stepped in (Hunt included), the band could aim for a more mysterious approach and it would've been more effective. However, that's mere nit-picking at this point. I really like this track. A somewhat "meh" opening two tracks has lead to a fantastic inner two.

Which now takes us to the "epic". About 27 and a half minutes long, "Mindscan" scares me. This is a talented band that has a few issues with sound quality. I BS'd about it when I listened to "Troubles With Machines", leaving behind optimism that with a band of this caliber, the quality can only get better from here, and with "In Vaults" it actually got worse. Thankfully, though, the spacy intro riff leads nicely into a beautiful piano melody in "Entrance". The transition to "Realization" though seems a bit abrupt, as if the guitar and keys players where enjoying playing licks up different scales before realizing "oh crap we gotta move on", and suddenly shifted gears. The instrumental licks are fine though from there on out, and "Welcome" is a nice little breath of fresh air, and the light pizzicato's in the background accompanied by a sweet cello melody seems to create a very scholarly air around it, as if it was accompanying a love story set in a London bookstore.

The biggest flaw by this point is the abrupt end to "Welcome" with no segue into "Examination, and I do mean abrupt, as if the band literally had no idea how to move on from there and just had to cut off, and "Examination" in of itself is weird. It just sounds like a collection of materials used to scare people in horror movies with a girl whispering in the back before again cutting off altogether before the nice sweet piano melody returns to close it, as if someone with bipolar disorder composed this entire track.

"Hybrid Child" is a nice and beautiful ballad, a wonderful song that frankly should've been a stand-alone track, while "Exploration" is a cool little instrumental bridge highlighting drummer Jonathan Schang on drums underneath what sounds like a synth drone akin to an Indian tanpura (the instrument that creates that typical drone). The segue to "What Do They Want" is nicely well done, though I wonder if it might have been better if both tracks were combined into one. Nevertheless, I'm still enjoying the song.

The transition to "When I Awake" is good as well, as is that tasty guitar solo towards the end, all as it's wrapped up with "Returning Home", a finale that almost seems to recap "Entrance" and "Realization" in one hectic finale. The finale is impressive actually, a bit more memorable than most finales in big symphonic prog epics where they typically lull and drone by with nice fluffy "Ahhhhhs" dragging along a slovenly, boring drum beat. The piece closes out nicely, though, one of the better epics I've heard recently.

VERDICT: I've tried listening to the later albums, and I haven't gotten even 5 minutes into each before I just completely turned away from them. This album as of right now typing this review is LIGHT YEARS ahead of both "Trouble With Machines" and "In Vaults", and I've given this 3 stars. I'm going to try and listen to both albums and give reviews on them soon as well, and it may take a few listens to figure it out, but honestly, the sound quality just gets worse with release, and it STILL doesn't sound like they don't know what kind of sound they want to make.

The band sounds like they want to rock out like Dream Theater. (with "The Man" and "Termites"), but there's still a desire to create catchy songs, like "I Don't Want To Wait" and "Open Your Eyes" off "Trouble With Machines" (which actually is quite good, by the way). The best bands that instantly appeal to my palette are bands that have their signature sound all sorted out, and these guys (and gals) still don't.

Again, I'm gonna listen to both albums in depth and (hopefully) my opinion may change. All in all, though, this album it still worth a gander from both a prog metal and a simple prog rock fan's perspective.

Maybe I'm just not on the bandwagon yet, I dunno. We'll see

 In Vaults by DISTRICT 97 album cover Studio Album, 2015
3.58 | 56 ratings

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In Vaults
District 97 Crossover Prog

Review by Droidmaster

5 stars I haven't written too many reviews here, but after repeated listens of this album, it warrants me to let you know- the readers, to go out and purchase this amazing album. Myself being from Chicago, I am so proud to praise this band- all their albums have affected me positively, but this one is a grower that should make them one of the best "new" progressive bands. I say grower because I admit on the first listen, I thought maybe this isn't what I expected or completely wanted from this band - it seems their earlier albums had a more catchy tracks. In Vaults took 3 listens and I was hooked. It hasn't left my player in two weeks. I listen to it everyday and it doesn't tire my mind like most other albums. First off the players are top notch. Jonathan Schang is like a young Bruford-utilising his complete set with precision and passion. Multirhythms and polyrhythms are explored with care not to get in the way- so, if you like Bruford ( and who doesn't) you will like Schang. Patrick Mulcahy on bass, the same as Schang perfectly complementing him and careful listens will reveal technical apptitude and artistic voicings. So you have a dream rhythm section. Now- keys and occasional guitar are by Rob Clearfield- killer sounds and unison runs with the guitar that are exemplory of a progressive player and composer. "Blinding Vision" string arrangement is the best I've heard in quite awhile. And Jim Tashjian on guitar, whom at first I was hoping for more guitar solos, but realised his role that feeds off the keyboard, and gives some powerful crunch-also very nice semi-acoustic licks on the latter half of the album. Lastly, but far from least; Leslie Hunt on vocals. This woman is a singing angel with a range and power that invades your heart- but she also knows when to show restraint. On top of that she is all around singer that could warm your bones with jazzy tones or if she wanted crush your soul with metal meanderings and would get my vote as the most beautiful female lead ever. OK- drooling aside...hmm the compositions which I would attribute to overal band effort. All of them participated in the writing. Overall a 5 star album and a band that deserves more recognition.
Thanks to Garion81 for the artist addition. and to Quinino for the last updates

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