Title - 'Screens'
Artist - District 97
For those not in the know, District 97 is undoubtedly the most musically adventurous rock band in the world to feature an American Idol Top 10 Female Finalist!
Formed in the Fall of 2006 by drummer/primary composer Jonathan Schang, keyboardist Rob Clearfield, bassist Patrick Mulcahy and guitarist Sam Krahn, the band drew upon influences from heavy metal to avant-garde jazz.
The foursome from Chicago honed a no-holds barred style of eclectic and intricate Instrumental Rock before deciding the right vocalist was needed to complement their sound: enter 2007 American Idol Top 10 Female Finalist, Leslie Hunt.
With a look, sound, and stage presence comparable to a young Ann Wilson from Heart, Leslie's dynamic performances pushed the band into a new direction that forged a unique marriage between accessible, catchy vocal melodies and an adventurous instrumental prowess.
She was followed shortly thereafter by one of Chicago's finest guitarists, Jim Tashjian.
With this new blend of charisma and stellar musicianship in place, their live shows over the past several years at festivals such as RoSfest, Prog Dreams II and V, and numerous appearances across the USA, UK and Europe cemented the band as a force to be reckoned with onstage as well as in the recording studio.
Hybrid Child, the band’s 2010 debut on record label Laser’s Edge, immediately made a big impression worldwide with their sophomore album, 2012's critically-acclaimed Trouble With Machines further proving the band was the real deal.
By now they had also attracted the attention of legendary bassist and vocalist John Wetton (King Crimson/UK/Asia), who sang the role of Chicago serial killer H.H. Holmes on Schang’s 'The Perfect Young Man.'
The band took to the studio in 2014 to record the new material they'd been honing at home and on the road with the resulting album, In Vaults being released in June of 2015.
In August 2015, Rob Clearfield and Patrick Mulcahy left the group and were succeeded by Andrew Lawrence and Tim Seisser, respectively. 2018 saw the band complete a much-lauded North American 10th Anniversary Tour, as well as completing tracking for their brand new and just-released album Screens, their highly-anticipated fourth studio album; and first with the new lineup.
Released October 11th, 2019 via the UK's venerable record label Cherry Red Records, the album showcases the fact that, and without a shadow of a doubt, District 97 continues to prove to be one of the most unique bands in modern Prog.
1. 'Forest Fire'
3. 'Sea I Provide'
4. 'Bread & Yarn'
6. 'After Orbit Mission'
9. 'Ghost Girl'
Their incredible fourth album, as expected, continues onward with their signature sound and yet now includes excellent growth levels of certain musical complexities within their melodies.
A sign of progression, sure but also one of confidence within each other to be able to extend and grow their sound, at times even the lyrical content complete with prerequisite vocals are seemingly enhanced this time round.
The instrumental solos and musical groundwork here on the nine tracks are as competent and as cultured as ever, and even though the music can come across a wee bit too heavy and maybe even dark at times (due to the guitars and bass, of course), overall it's still a rather brilliant musical experience to behold.
Tracks such as 'Sheep' are more dynamic, moving from quiet, thoughtful passages to sections that feature jazzy piano riffs to other parts that are quite progressive and heavy, whereas opener 'Forest Fire' is just a fast and heavy ride.
One of the stand outs here for me is when Jim joins Leslie on vocals on 'Bread & Yarn,' a track that begins somewhat pensively with a nice melody and a hesitant keyboard accompaniment, but soon erupts into a more intensified and complex cut.
In closing, and if you wanted even more proof of just how good this band are, iconic drummer Bill Bruford (Yes/King Crimson/Genesis) told Rolling Stone Magazine (10/29/19), "There’s a great band out of Chicago called District 97, who are very good, and they’re here in the U.K. right now. And you know, it’s the next generation of so-called progressive guys who played much better than we ever played."
Amazon CD Purchase Link
District 97 @ Facebook