Released By: Laser’s Edge
Release Date: Out Now!!
Genre: Progressive Rock/ Progressive Metal
Leslie Hunt – Vocals
Rob Clearfield – Keyboards, Guitar
Jim Tashjian – Guitar
Jonathan Schang – Drums, Percussion
Patrick Mulcahy – Bass
1. Back And Forth
2. Open Your Eyes
3. The Actual Color
4. The Perfect Young Man
5. Who Cares
6. Read Your Mind
7. The Thief
Sometimes just being on a reality show can help you launch a career, even if your big break comes in an unexpected way. See, District 97 formed in 2006 as an instrumental band, but they quickly decided they needed a capable vocalist in order to make it big. Well, they just so managed to bring in vocalist Leslie Hunt, who made it into the top 20 on the 2007 season of the extremely popular TV show, American Idol. Seeing a singer go from something so mainstream to being in a progressive band is certainly not what you’d expect, but in this case it has worked out wonderfully. I actually missed out on the band’s 2010 debut “Hybrid Child”, but I was tempted to give this new release “Trouble With Machines” a try after reading a particularly convincing review. Well, now my job is to write an equally convincing review, because this is one of the best prog albums of 2012, hands down.
First off, this is a nice mix of genres with elements of all kinds of different prog styles, with equal parts rock and metal throughout. There are some fairly heavy sections on most of the songs, but it never gets to the point of being too much for someone who usually wouldn’t listen to a metal album, and there are certainly some classic progressive rock sounds dominating some of the songs. The songs are generally quite complex with some very complicated rhythms and challenging song structures but there are also points where the music is just a bit more accessible and melodic. In this the band manages to strike the perfect balance, by being very technical and complicated so the typical fan of more advanced progressive rock/metal can easily be satisfied, while having enough simpler sections to give it just a bit of mainstream appeal at times. It also helps that there aren’t an excessive amount of solos, and the ones present are very good but not too long or overly flashy. I definitely think this is an easy album to get into, as I was already quite impressed after the first listen, and it only got better from there.
Anyone afraid that having a reality show contestant in a prog band is doomed to fail, can rest easy. In fact, when I first started listening to the album I was unaware of Leslie Hunt’s history and I certainly wouldn’t have guessed it, as right from the start she fits in great. She has a crystal clear voice which makes following the lyrics an easy task, but she also shows she can fit in with the music as her voice can be very strong and powerful when it has to be. Though above all else she has a very jazzy quality to her vocals, making her sound very distinct and memorable among female vocalists in any rock or metal bands. What impresses me most though is how tricky some of the vocal melodies are on this album, yet Leslie pulls them off effortlessly, so it’s obvious she’s exceptionally talented.
The band wastes no time getting to business, with the opening track “Back And Forth” being one of the most complicated on the entire album, with several tempo changes and some incredibly complex rhythms, while Leslie sings some of the trickiest vocal melodies on the album right near the beginning. This song also introduces the more metallic elements and is one of the heaviest songs on the album, as well. At well over 8 minutes it definitely feels like a mini-epic and it starts the album off very impressively. After that it makes sense that the band would want to ease up a bit, so it’s no surprise the next song “Open Your Eyes” is the most accessible by far. Which isn’t to say it’s terribly commercial sounding or that fans of progressive rock should skip it, because it’s still fairly progressive, it just happens to be the most straight-forward and it even has quite the catchy chorus. Though my favorite parts are when it briefly speeds up a bit in the verses.
My favorite song is the 10 minute epic “The Perfect Young Man”, which is actually quite sad lyrically, despite what its name would suggest. This one feels the most like a retro progressive rock song, and is very melodic and keyboard driven, with parts of it feeling like they could have come from a Neal Morse album, before turning into something completely different and more melancholic by the end. The vocals are the highlight though, and while Leslie dominates she’s given a bit of help, with a guest appearance from none other than the legendary Asia vocalist John Wetton, who shows up for a very nice duet in the middle section.
One particularly impressive thing about the album is how perfectly it flows even with all the variety in the songwriting. The best example of this is at the end of “The Perfect Young Man” as the song slowly fades away at the end, while the next song “Who Cares” starts out very slowly before eventually taking off, so it feels like a natural progression. The entire album feels this way, where most of the time it takes me a couple seconds to realize I’ve moved onto another song. The most distinctive opening comes in “Read Your Mind”, which begins with a very nice cello section before turning into the creepiest song on the album, where even Leslie has a very dark tone to her voice, which as always fits the music perfectly. While not my personal favorite here, closing track “The Thief” is an excellent near 14 minute epic, with many surprises, and it serves as the perfect finale for a brilliant album.
With a mix of complex and challenging songwriting, a blend of heavy metal sections and melodic rock sections, excellent lyrics with constantly changing moods from song to song and some truly exceptional female vocals, “Trouble With Machines” is one of the very best prog albums of the year, and fans of any kind of progressive music are highly recommended to give it at least a couple listens. It’s rare to hear a female fronted prog band of any type that sounds this good, so District 97 is definitely a band worth following.
Written by Travis