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(55:01, The Laser's Edge Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. I Don't Want To Wait Another Day 7:17 2. I Can't Take You With Me 5:36 3. The Man Who Knows Your Name 8:48 4. Termites 5:53 5. Mindscan I: Arrival 1:30 6. Mindscan II: Entrance 3:07 7. Mindscan III: Realization 2:45 8. Mindscan IV: Welcome 2:47 9. Mindscan V: Examination 2:53 10. Mindscan VI: Hybrid Child 3:30 11. Mindscan VII: Exploration 2:19 12. Mindscan VIII: What Do They Want 2:42 13. Mindscan IX: When I Awake 3:12 14. Mindscan X: Returning Home 2:42 LINEUP: Jim Tashjian – guitars Rob Clearfield – keyboards Jonathan Schang – drums, tambourine Patrick Mulcahy – bass Katinka Kleijn – cello Leslie Hunt – vocals
Prolusion. The 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.
Analysis. I presume a fair few have been and probably still are a tad sceptical about a band which focuses on a member's participation in American Idol in their PR. This TV concept has been the subject of quite a lot of criticism by people actually creating new original music after all, and I have seen this show being described as a contest of and for copycats. But as a means of reaching outside of the regular crowd purchasing progressive rock I presume it has been successful. However, as much as one might think and write about that particular topic, it is the music that is the essential part of the package, and to cover that part first: Leslie Hunt is a very good vocalist. She has a strong voice that suits softer- and harder-edged material just as well, energetic and intense vocals covered with the same ease as sensual whispers and fragile performances. If this is because of or despite of her background I don't know, but as a vocalist she's a find - of the kind that could make a career out of her voice if she worked hard at it and had a bit of luck to boot. Her contributions are a massively positive aspect of this production. The songs are fine examples of good music that is well performed. To my ears these musicians come across as both enthusiastic and innovative in approach, and it does sound like they had a jolly good time whilst recording and finishing this material. There's an abundance of energy here that is easy to get captivated by. The compositions themselves, when not functioning as a platform for the excellent pipes of the aforementioned Hunt, focus to some extent on the contrasts between the electric guitar and the cello (courtesy of Jim Tashjian and Katinka Kleijn respectively). Often these two instrumentalists will pair off in partial harmonic displays, with hammering energetic motifs something of a key feature - close but not quite metal in style. From that base these musicians will gleefully move outwards, to challenging fusion segments, sleepy and lazy jazz-oriented segments, harder hitting metal-oriented escapades and the occasional visit to a stylistic expression more in line with the flamboyant parts of the symphonic corner of the art rock universe. And to top it all off, a 10-part massive epic clocking in at 27 minutes or thereabout, as diverse and versatile as the stand-alone compositions preceding it. As much as there was to enjoy on this disc, I wasn't completely taken by it however. There's a lot of talent in this band, in some departments in abundance, but the songs never managed to entice me on a deeper level. Interesting - yes intriguing for sure, but in a clever manner rather than the "play it again now" feel. Thus is music that triggers my intellect to a higher degree than my emotions, if you like.
Conclusion. 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.
OMB=Olav M Bjornsen: September 22, 2011
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