Despite being an American Idol finalist in Season 6 (and let me say this is the last time you hear me utter those two words), Leslie Hunt could definitely bring the female progressive rock sound to another level when she joined the band, District 97 back in 2007. Her vocals fit the atmosphere in District 97 as if she’s the answer to Jon Anderson and Annie Haslam of Yes and Renaissance, but adding the obscure prog structures for this up-and-coming band, let’s say it sounds like it’s 1973 all over again. Since forming in 2006, it’s quite evidential that District 97 is just getting a head start and with their debut album, Hybrid Child, they have quite a head start for them to go retro for their love of ‘70s prog music.
What is really surprising is once you put the headphones on and listen to the album from start to finish, is just how the strength the debut is, but when you carry the aspect of the progressive elements together on Hybrid Child. While some of the listeners are going to have mixed opinions because of Leslie Hunt’s vocal arrangements, including myself. At first, I was a little skeptical because of District 97 featuring an American Idol finalist, but my brain said to me “Zack, why don’t you give it a shot and take a few listens?” And I did, and after listening to the album about three times, I realized that something is going on here and something special that lies beneath this up-and-coming band.
Even though it may not be your cup of coffee and you may or may not like District 97, but that doesn’t matter, so let’s stop the bullshit and get straight to the review. On Hybrid Child, the band has a symphonic rock sound in growing community of prog-geektacular with a vengeance. Much of the album has a structure of Yes meets Rush meets Heart. I Don’t Want To Wait Another Day, opens with a militant pounding section on the drums done by Jonathan Schang in his Mike Portnoy-esque rumble, resembles Dream Theater’s Scenes From a Memory-era before Kelijn’s thunderous violin solo takes over, plus some thunderous guitar rumble as if it sounds like a bullet train that is going 450 miles per hour as Jim Tashijan just lets his playing go like a flaming fire while the melodic midsection comes in for the band to take a chill pill to create a moody ballad while it heads back into the race track for a mind-boggling finale.
The prog-pop single, I Can’t Take You With Me, which you can find on YouTube, sees Leslie Hunt rocking out with her vocalization as keyboardist Rob Clearfield does his Rick Wakeman and Jordan Rudess-esque keyboard solo as if it sounds like it was left off the Fragile sessions, but he is like an energetic robot that is charged and ready to go while Tashijan and Schang follows him with his improvisation as if they’re thinking to themselves “We go something here with this.” The batteries are charged and revved up and ready to go on The Man Who Knows Your Name.
At first, it sounds like a resemblance of Rush’s modern sound on Moving Pictures meets ELP’s Trilogy before Kelijn’s comes into the picture as she is paying tribute to Curved Air and Wolf’s violinist, Darryl Way. She is doing a lot of Concertos and paying a tribute to Vivaldi’s thunderous classical composition. The beast has been unleashed from its cage while Clearfield comes in create a disturbing force in the field with his keyboard solo as the band go into a sinister yet mysterious territory for the listener to go batshit crazy. The instrumental track for the first four minutes are jaw-dropping as the album’s highlight, as Leslie comes in with her haunting vocals in which her and the members create electrical power and soaring melodies with a driving riff.
You have to admit that Leslie Hunt has finally moved away from the American Idol scenery and looks like that she is about to give it the middle finger and let them know, “I’m going to show you how I do music in a different way not in an MTV way!” Again while she resembles Ann Wilson of Heart, she definitely carries the spirit of the early Yes as her masterpiece. As for the band members, you have to give them 100% credit as well. This isn’t Leslie Hunt and District 97, both of them work together as a team and conduct and compose themselves in odd time changes, where the note is going to land and see where the music will lead to them.
But Hybrid Child isn’t just a progressive rock album and the first three tracks that will blow you away, but there’s the symphonic rock sound meets heavy metal in a Yes’ The Yes Album meets Metallica’s And Justice For All on Termites which is a high voltage rocker while it leads up to the ten-part epic, Mindscan. Here, District 97 go beyond the 20-minute compositions as if to say the Prog isn’t dead. The band go through New Age atmospheric music, haunting classical pieces, Avant-Garde vocalization in the realm of Frank Zappa’s early days with the Mothers of Invention on Examination, time-changing structures of Progressive Metal, Vocal workout through the piece into a medieval rock ‘70s sound, homage to King Crimson, and add all that up, you got yourself an epic that is mind-blowing. The reaction is breathtaking and explosive.
Hybrid Child is almost like an album that is just getting started and the same thing with District 97. Leslie is moving away from the mainstream and into the progressive indie rock sound is a perfect combination. So let’s hope they can come up with a better follow up, but their debut album shows how much they are getting a huge following in the underground prog festival circuit, but made one hell of a debut of 2010.