Published on 21st October 2019
District 97 – Screens
As a band that in certain quarters needs no introduction, a contexture of sorts seems only polite. A bunch of studious musicians playing quirky instrumental metallic avant garde jazzy type crunchy guitar stuff changed direction (slightly) when former American Idol semi-finalist Leslie Hunt added the missing vocal component to make a brand new progressive rock band in 2007. At that point (and for the next two albums) Katinka Kleijn, from the posh Chicago Symphony Orchestra of that time, was also featured on cello.
First album Hybrid Child, with the superb I Can’t Take You With Me, featured the cello as a rock instrument (not just as a “dung dung dung” thing à la mode de ELO) and was internationally revered. Second album Trouble With Machines had a guest appearance by John Wetton. In Vaults was so good that Bill Bruford said: “The playing sounds uniformly dynamite and quality oozes from every pore. You’ve worked so hard on this, I wish you and the music all the success you deserve.” The Crimson tinged One More Red Light (Live in Chicago) had John Wetton again reprising his regal role, and now they have released their fifth triumphant long-player, Screens.
Funded by Kick Starter and still featuring the amazing guitar talent of Jim Tashjian and master drummer, de facto leader, and song writer, Jonathan Schang, but now with the added goodness of new keyboard player Andrew Lawrence and Hagrid lookalike Tim Seisser playing a bass, that only he could lift up.
A slightly delayed release due to a few health issues from Leslie, the world need wait no longer. The inspiration of a certain ex-Yes sticks man appears to have made its way into the drum sound on this production. Forest Fire has that Bruford snare ‘doink’ that gilds the ostensibly prog metal sheen with a jazz veneer, the mathematically perfect rhythm rubber-stamping this band’s sound right off the bat, a mixture of epileptic time signatures and cast iron chords, all cemented by Leslie Hunt’s powerful upfront vocal prowess.
A retro Fender Rhodes keyboard sound imbues Sheep, which has a video on YouTube (above) to illustrate this wondrous piece of music, however, the most interesting track is Bread & Yarn. Sung as a duet between the guitarist and singer, it is a country song of sorts and feels like the soundtrack to an episode of The Waltons circa 3020, and a favourite of Data. Blink and you’ll miss the incredible drum fills that are both massive and yet weaved from unspun wool being loomed by a simple electric piano motif. This is one original piece of writing.
By Trigger there are future echoes of past Curved Air before the album gets a commercial break where the new monster bass player has an After Orbit Mission that uses all hundred strings on his Saturn V sized rocket thing. The bass continues into Shapeshifter where a Brew of Bitches meets titanium walls of deflector shields, beauty and the beast in five minutes.
One of the most alluring sides of seeing District 97 live is the seamless manner in which Leslie Hunt appears to effortlessly dance along to the polyrhythmic patterns created by the number-crunching band, and Blueprint is archetypal of these musicians plan to make this all work whether recorded or live.
As if a homage to the first album, Ghost Girl harks back to the storytelling aspect of Hybrid Child, but this time alien abduction is replaced by parapsychology. Shades of everything from the past (like ghosts) can be picked out on the midnight recording from the walls of the old mansion. Shades of Black Sabbath’s first album jump at you as Ozzy is wearing a white sheet over his head and tripping over the complex drumming. Elements of jazz rock show off the musicianship but the paranormal investigator is captivated by the singer’s narrative, who always behaves like a group member and not as a diva with backing…
Screens is neither better or worse than the other four albums it is simply as good as it gets in this genre and if you are a newcomer to this talented group of relative youngsters then join the best kept secret society and make sure you own all of their output, this latest instalment simply adds to the marvel.
01. Forest Fire (4:58)
02. Sheep (6:41)
03. Sea I Provide (2:51)
04. Bread & Yarn (7:33)
05. Trigger (4:42)
06. After Orbit Mission (1:32)
07. Shapeshifter (5:46)
08. Blueprint (4:14)
09. Ghost Girl (10:51)
Total Time – 49:08
Leslie Hunt – Lead & Backing Vocals
Andrew Lawrence – Keyboards, Additional Guitar
Jim Tashjian – Guitar, Backing Vocals
Tim Seisser – Bass
Jonathan Schang – Drums, Percussion
Record Label: Independent
Country Of Origin: U.S.A.
Date of Release: 4th October 2019