DISTRICT 97 – Screens

MindScan 2019


Hardening their sonic windshield, Chicagoan ensemble explore fractal reflections of our world’s microcosm.

It took this band more than a few years to refine experimental edge they demonstrated from the outset, when an American Idol finalist Leslie Hunt refused to conform to the contest’s pop angle and fronted a prog group instead. Almost a decade later, with many an accolade under their belt, D97 still inhabit the same Nietzschean niche where an attempt to incorporate new values results in staying on the same stylistic plateau so, to avoid stagnation and make persistence pay off, two players were replaced, and the line-up’s sound palette revealed a strange sort of sharpness.

The collective tried walking on such an edge on their live recording with John Wetton, but handling original material in this manner proved to be uneven. While the musicians thrive on forming fractured tunes around menacing riffs Leslie’s voice has to navigate, instead of using them as solid support, the band are also able to construct a proper, captivating epic when rigid figures subside to let vocals dominate a front line. That’s how it is on the folk-infused “Bread & Yarn” – in a polyphony shared between Hunt and guitarist Jim Tashjian – and, to a lesser extent due to a cleverly applied heaviosity, “Ghost Girl” whose delicate theatricality is alluring, because the piece isn’t as abstract and as depressing as the likes of “Forest Fire” which opens the quintet’s fourth studio album.

There’s a lot of interesting details buried in the mix that’s rather disorienting, with Jonathan Schang’s drums dampening, if not drowning – especially on the pesudo-Eastern “Sheep” – Andrew Lawrence’s classically tinged piano ripples, whereas synthesizers and six strings offer jazzy tangents on “Shapeshifter”: a bossa nova-tinctured picture – along with the dramatic “Blueprint” – of one’s inner existence as influenced by an outside tumult. Metal sheen wouldn’t be an issue here, as stressed by “Sea I Provide” – this short song’s clear melody and instrumental squeal go hand in hand – but “Trigger” should show how even fully fleshed-out cuts might wallow in the art-rock-by-numbers shallowness as opposed to chthonic pounding which can actually lift the drift off the ground.

“Screens” falls short of its promise, although the promise is still there: clearing the ensemble’s vision may help them project any image they fancy into any space.


January 12, 2020

Category(s): Reviews
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