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District 97: Hybrid Child

District 97 are a modern progressive rock band formed in 2006 by drummer Jonathan Schang, keyboard player Rob Clearfield, bassist Patrick Mulcahy, and guitarist Sam Krahn. Originally this Chicago based band played an instrumental style inspired by acts such as Liquid Tension Experiment or Planet X before they decided to change things up a bit and add a vocalist. In comes 2007 American Idol finalist Leslie Hunt to fill the vocal slot, guitarist Jim Tashjian replaced Krahn, as well as the addition of Chicago Symphony Orchestra cellist Katinka Kleijn, and the result is their debut album Hybrid Child on The Lasers Edge.

Honestly, it took me a few weeks and a bunch of listens for Hybrid Child to really sink in and start to uncover all its rewards. It's not an easy album to get an instant reaction from, so rather than fire off some immediate impressions I decided to give it plenty of time, and that was indeed the right way to go. You can hear how District 97 were an instrumental prog/metal outfit previously, as they obviously have the chops, and some of these songs sounds like they might have been written to include extended instrumental passages which have now been chopped down in favor of vocal section. Hunt's lovely vocals contain plenty of charm and whimsical playfullness on the fun opener "I Don't Want To Wait Another Day ", a tun that sort of reminded me of Finneus Gauge at first, until the dizzying cello from Kleijn took things in classic The Move or ELO directions. It proved to be a tune I just couldn't get out of my head for days on end. Pop meets prog meets metal on "I Can't Take You With Me", another track with an instantly memorable hook plus some crunchy power chords and kick ass Hammond from Clearfield. "The Man Who Knows Your Name" reminded me a bit of vintage Kansas, with cello replacing violin as one of the main ingredients, plus some intricate guitar and keyboard passages. Things quickly shift gears on the raging metal attack of "Termites", as Tashjian unleashes some punishing riffs and Schang flails on his kit while Hunt delivers her most aggressive vocal performance on the CD. Plenty of instrumental mania on this one towards the middle section, and the band even get in some 'mosh pit' friendly sections that will surprise some listeners with its intensity.

The 10 part, 25+ minute "Mindscan" suite takes up the entire second half of the CD, and it's quite adventurous and thought provoking. The band goes from atmospheric keyboard washes, calming cello passages, to breakneck metal, to soaring prog rock, to accessible vocal sections thoughout this extended multi-part epic, so there's something for everyone here. When they put it all together, the results are quite magical.

As good as Hybrid Child is, my guess is that this is just the tip of the iceberg as far as what we can expect from District 97. This band is very young, so dispite some killer chops that are on display here, it's frightening to think that they can only get better. Leslie Hunt has that 'American Idol' buzz, plus her voice is instantly accessible and charming, seemingly ready for the mainstream. Add in the wonderful cello, vintage 70's prog sounds, and a modern metal attitude, and you have a unique band that could very well be a quick breakout sensation.


Track Listing
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)
Total time 55:01

Added: December 12th 2010
Reviewer: Pete Pardo
Score:
Related Link: Band MySpace Page
Hits: 4534
Language: english

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District 97: Hybrid Child
Posted by Ryan Sparks, SoT Staff Writer on 2010-12-12 09:45:34
My Score:

The innovative minds over at The Laser's Edge are always combing the planet in search of fresh, new talent, and one of their latest finds is an exciting project called District 97. Formed in Chicago back in 2006 by drummer Jonathan Schang, keyboardist Rob Clearfield, guitarist Sam Krahn and bassist Patrick Mulcahy, the quartet focused on playing their own brand of complex, instrumental rock before they eventually decided to shift gears the following year. Krahn was replaced by new guitarist Jim Tashijan, and two new members entered the fold, cellist Katinka Kleijn and American Idol top ten finalist, vocalist Leslie Hunt.

Their debut disc Hybrid Child is an impressive fusion of progressive rock & metal with some classical elements thrown in for good measure. Judging by the photo's contained within the booklet some of the male members look barely old enough to shave, so yeah the band might appear to be young and somewhat inexperienced, but you'd never know it after listening to these songs. There's such a considerable amount of depth contained within these songs that you'd almost swear they were seasoned pros. Katinka Kleijn's dizzying and infectious cello work really adds an extra dimension to the band's metal meets progressive sound, especially on the first two songs "I Don't Wanna Wait Another Day" and "I Can't Take You With Me". Aided by the rich and inviting qualities of Hunt's voice these two compositions certainly come across as the most commercial ones of the bunch. "The Man Who Knows Your Name" is a nine minute tour de-force featuring some absolutely dazzling cello and keyboard interplay between Kleijn and Clearfield. The band opts for a more metallic approach on "Termites" as Clearfield turns in his keys for the baritone guitar, which gives the song a heavier feel while Jim Tashijan dishes out a brief but ripping solo. Hunt also gets into the spirit of the track by stepping up to the plate and proving that she really has a powerful set of pipes. Saving the best for last, these talented young musicians demonstrate that they have a firm handle on how to craft a progressive rock epic, as the twenty seen minute "Mindscan" makes up the second half of Hybrid Child. This track features several different movements that flow seamlessly from one to the next with relative ease as the band takes the listener on an engaging musical journey that has everything you'd want to hear if you're a fan of modern progressive metal.

I'll echo the sentiments of the other reviewers here and say that as good as Hybrid Child is, my feeling is we haven't even begun to see and hear what these incredibly talented young musicians are really capable of. Now that is a scary thought.

District 97: Hybrid Child
Posted by Jordan Blum, SoT Staff Writer on 2010-09-13 08:06:43
My Score:

Twenty years ago, complex progressive metal was just finding its niche in the music industry. On their 1989 debut, When Dream and Day Unite, Dream Theater essentially combined Metallica with prog rock, and thus they set a template that's been copied countless times. Naturally the genre has become a bit stale and unoriginal lately, but there are some new bands looking to breathe fresh air into it. District 97 accomplishes this wonderfully on their debut, Hybrid Child.

Touting themselves as "the only Progressive Rock band in the world to feature an American Idol finalist and a Chicago Symphony Orchestra virtuoso cellist," District 97 formed in Chicago a few years ago. The aforementioned uniqueness comes in the form of singer Leslie Hunt (who mixes the power of Ann Wilson with the charm of Gwen Stefani) and cellist Katinka Kleijn. They describe Hybrid Child as a combination of "Meshuggah-inspired metal, the epic majesty of Yes, and the melodicism of the Beatles," and while the last claim may be quite a stretch (their songwriting is nowhere near that good yet), District 97 incorporate more pop sensibility and better dynamics than many of their contemporaries.

Hybrid Child opens with the flawed but still awesome "I Don't Want To Wait Another Day." The flaw of the song is a major one; Hunt's vocals are extremely repetitive. She says "I don't want to wait" over and over. That's about it, and in terms of songwriting, it's pretty bad. Structurally and musically, though, the song is fantastic. Every time she does say this verse, there are alterations in the accompaniment, be it a cello line or a keyboard solo. And her harmonies are good. Surprisingly, an entirely different song begins in the middle of the track, and that right there is the innovation this genre needs. The last minute of the track returns to where it began.

"I Can't Take You with Me" is filled with odd time signatures, stellar dynamics and punk attitude. Here Hunt's vocals are quite impressive because, besides their high quality, her melody follows the exact same scale as the music, moving up and down the octave with the instruments. The song constantly shifts from complex keyboard and guitar work to mellow cello and vocal lines. A more adventurous style appears in "The Man Who Knows Your Name," which, with a timbre straight from Keith Emerson and more focus on riffs, is heavier overall. At almost ten minutes long, it's deceptively an instrumental for its first half (which is another interesting choice). Eventually Hunt chimes in with more multitracked vocals and it's engaging, as is the futuristic, spacey aesthetic District 97 fancies.

The most complex track on Hybrid Child is "Termites." It changes its rhythms constantly, and Hunt, even more intricately than she did on "I Can't Take…," follows along. Usually prog bands will leave the tricky stuff to the music and then return to simpler forms for the vocal sections, but not District 97, and it's very effective. There is a moment where she screams that is so sudden and unexpected, it's slightly humorous, but it adds an extra layer of personality in an instant (and luckily she doesn't make it a habit; she's too good of a singer to resort to that).

Hybrid Child closes, in typical progressive metal ambition (or pretention depending on how you look at it), with a ten part, twenty-seven minute suite entitled "Mindscan." The first three sections are instrumental and include a great piano focused prologue and complicated metal freak out that lodges itself in your memory. The sections with Hunt are excellent too, especially "Mindscan IX: When I Awake." Logically, the piece reprises sections it began with at the end, which brings it full circle, and it has an epic quality which results from movements that flow as smoothly as colors in a rainbow.

District 97 may only have a few years under their belt, but with this debut, they've crafted an album that revitalizes the genre, plain and simple. It's more original, refreshing and catchy than you'd expect, and contemporaries of past, present and future could learn a few things from Hybrid Child. District 97 packs their album with the standard technical music, don't get me wrong, but they also allow their songs to blossom melodically and range between vast levels of intensity. There are certainly better prog metal albums out there, and District 97 needs to develop deeper songwriting (good melodies and good songwriting are two different things, after all), but the genre hasn't felt this fresh in many years.




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