By Rob Hughes
Give it up for the drummer! Not only did District 97 percussionist Jonathan Schang write and produce almost all of his band’s debut album, he and his bandmates managed to draft both a Chicago Symphony Orchestra cellist to enhance their sound and a former American Idol finalist to front them. Mad genius. Suddenly this more-than-capable outfit had an image and a promotional hook for hacks like me to seize upon.
Hybrid Child is effervescent and fun, a mostly harmless romp through progressive rock territory. District 97’s edge can be found in the way vocalist Leslie Hunt carries the melodies and the staccato riffing that anchors most of the tracks—you can sorta tell that a drummer composed them. Hunt’s voice has just the right amount of swagger and attitude. She’s not just off on her own Idol trip; she’s actively listening and getting into it. Even when the band gets heavy—“Termites” has some sub-Meshuggah moments that a bigger budget might have bolstered—she’s there to let loose a scream (albeit one that won’t give Grace Perry any sleepless nights). Katinka Kleijn‘s cello mucks in as well with rapid-fire lines that are a far cry from the syrupy strings that a lot of bands use to pad out the slow bits.
The album itself is pretty front-loaded, with four relatively brief, catchy songs before the 27-minute “Mindscan,” a 10-part saga that has its moments (“VIII: What Do They Want?” is quite ripping), but doesn’t sustain momentum. Maybe now that they’ve made their “Fountain of Lamneth,” they’ll lay a “2112” on us next time out. In the meantime, there’s always “I Don’t Wanna Wait Another Day” and “I Can’t Take You With Me,” a double-shot of gleaming, intricate-yet-hummable rockers off the top of the album to enjoy. Disenchanted fans of Spock’s Beard and Dream Theater should book a visit to District 97 ASAP.
(The Laser’s Edge)