District 97 - 'Trouble With Machines' Hot

Added by Central Electronic Brain     November 08, 2012    
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A splendid album.

District 97 (D97) burst onto the scene with much fanfare in 2010 thanks to the presence of American Idol finalist, Leslie Hunt, behind the microphone. That could have been mere hype but fortunately the album, ‘Hybrid Child’, more than matched expectations and turned out to be something of a Prog Metal masterpiece. The good news is that ‘Trouble With Machines’ is even better than the debut and really seals the band’s place in the upper echelons of the Prog Metal firmament.

It would be too simplistic just to say that D97 are akin to a female fronted Dream Theater (DT), but musically there are similarities, particularly to early DT. Also, as an instrumental comparison I offer up the name of Liquid Tension Experiment (LTE) a band that featured members of DT and created their music in a jamming environment; consequently you can tell the level of talent that’s in evidence. A particular criticism of Prog Metal is that incredible virtuosity often leads to technically brilliant but ultimately soulless music but D97 don’t fall into that trap very often but rather show a keen ear for a melody, hooks and memorable song structures; even if at times they dip their toes into Jazz territories. They have achieved the near impossible by creating complex yet highly accessible music with each play of this album revealing even greater depths to the music.

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Hunt has a unique style that borders on Jazz at times but fortunately never oversteps the mark and she certainly makes the band stand out from the numerous female-fronted bands in the genre. ‘Back and Forth’ opens the album in fine style. Edgy and technical, definitely, but still melodic with every member of the band shining (Jonathan Schang – drums, Rob Clearfield – keyboards, Patrick Mulachy – bass. Jim Tashjian - guitars). The album is well balanced between epic and shorter tracks with ‘Open Your Eyes’ falling into the latter category; it has a poppier approach that reminds of a cross between Evanescence and Pink doing Prog Metal. Its chorus is really catchy and soon gets in your head.

For me the album’s piece de resistance is the ten-minute ‘The Perfect Young Man’ on which John Wetton guests in the titular role. The dual vocals with Hunt and Wetton works a treat and musically the band are spot on. I won’t go into the premise of the song but it’s rather clever. ‘Who Cares?’ is another short song that is well placed to lighten things a little. ‘Read Your Mind’ features a spooky cello intro from Katinka Kleijn before a rather fine riff emerges. The album closes with an epic, namely ‘The Thief’ which ticks all the Prog bases and leaves you wanting more. It has a similar energy to the opening number and features some spectacular instrumentation and soloing, albeit the synth solo a third of the way through does get a tad overwrought for my taste.

A splendid album; do check it out.

Gary Marshall

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Franco Cerchiari said:

When I heard that an American Idol finalist was going to be featured on a prog metal release that also featured the great John Wetton, (Icon, Asia, King Crimson, Ayreon, Uriah Heep, Wishbone Ash,) I scoffed. But then, mostly out of curiosity I purchased this, and my scoffing stopped. Quickly. With the prog of Dream Theater and Amanarthe, the soft, almost jazzy underscore of King Crimson and ELP, and the hard elements of Redemption, District 97 have made a CD they can certainly be proud of.

What makes this such a tight CD, is that the completed CD stays within the framework of what makes a solid score of music. A completed CD, much like a painting has to have a totality about it. When you look at a great painting, everything is encompassed on that canvas. Leave out a certain part of it and that painting is not complete. Same with a great CD. Within the CD's playing time, all the songs on that CD need to be strong, be played well, the musicianship must be tight, the lyrics make sense, and the emotions that the songwriter was trying to convey must be evident to the listener as well.

Here on Trouble With Machines that totality can be "seen" and "felt," when the conclusion of the CD comes. The heaviness of "The Actual Color," that has a nice jazz vibe, "The Perfect Young Man," (that features John Wetton,) shows the wonderful control vocalist Leslie Hunt has. Her vocals stay within her comfort range so at no time does her voice sound strained. The telltale voice of John Wetton comes into focus about halfway into this track and soon a duet between John and Leslie is featured. This great pairing comes together well, and the guitar and organ solos, complex drumming, all make up the many parts of this great song. I loved how I felt I was in a small intimate downtown club and hearing "Who Cares?" The strings of "Read Your Mind," and the closing track "The Thief," with it's gorgeous acoustic guitars, that gave away to a distorted electric guitar was a perfect touch for a song called "The Thief." Although long (over 13 minutes,) I just allowed myself to be immersed in the storyline and actually hated when I knew that the end of the CD was coming.

What a brilliant CD this is. Perfectly executed, wonderfully played and the totality is so apparent. I learned not to judge a band just because of the band members. Sometimes, I am more than pleasantly surprised. This was one of those times.
September 22, 2013
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