District 97 - Screens,
District 97 have changed quite a bit since their original creation as an instrumental rock band back in 2006 when the line-up was Jonathan Schang (drums), Rob Clearfield (keys), Patrick Mulcahy (bass) and Sam Krahn (guitars). The band made quite a change in direction when they came across singer Leslie Hunt who had previously been a semi-finalist in 2007’s American Idol, and this is their fourth album since then. There have been some changes in the line-up over the years, but although Krahn had been replaced by Jim Tashjian before 2010’s debut album, founders Mulcahy and Clearfield were still around for the last album, 2015’s ‘In Vaults’, but have also since departed. So, the line-up is currently Hunt, Tashijan and Schang plus new members Andrew Lawrence (keyboards, additional guitar) and Tim Seisser (bass).
It must be said this is quite an unusual album in many ways, as not only is there a bringing together of multiple different styles, but there are times when it really doesn’t work and times when it really does. There is no doubt whatsoever that Hunt is a wonderful singer, and I was surprised to realise how much she reminded me of P!nk, not only in the tone and range but also the way she uses a catch in her voice at times to provide a certain inflection. She’s not coming to this like a progressive or classical singer, but someone with far more of a pop rock sound. As for the band, they are as tight as one can imagine, with keyboards often being a very important part of the sound and guitars even non-existent, although there are times when they are certainly front and centre. For me the issue here is that the band don’t seem to have settled on what they want to achieve, so a basic power ballad can turn into something else with dominant fusion drums, but does that change it, make it better, or is a detraction?
It is a very polished album, with plenty of harmony vocals and layers, but it also feels very commercial even for a crossover release. There are passages and sections here I absolutely love, but others where it just feels too bland. Mike Portnoy is quoted as saying, “District 97 continue to prove to be one of the most unique bands in modern Prog!”. I’ll agree with that statement in that I haven’t come across another band quite like it, and for someone from American Idol to have made a move in this direction should be highly applauded as it must been done for the love of the music as opposed