District 97 has evolved from a melodic, accessible progressive rock style on their debut album; Hybrid Child (2010, see review) to a modern, adventurous progressive rock band, with influences from King Crimson as well as fusion laden parts on In Vaults (2015, see review). With the new 2019 album, Screens the band continues the path chosen, only adding new elements to their music. Since their previous album the band has underwent some changes, Bandleader and drummer, Jonathan Schang remains, as does lead vocalist Leslie Hunt and guitarist, vocalist Jim Tashjian. New are keyboard player Andrew Lawrence and bass player Tim Seisser. Both new members also were involved in the song writing for the Screens album.
Forest Fire opens the album, a perfect composition taking off where In Vaults left us. Leslie's distinguished vocals are some of the most recognizable in the scene, her vocal-lines are sometimes challenging, other times nice and melodic. Catchy even. During this opener one of the changes, musical growth I would prefer, are the guitar solo spots. The solid heavy riffs and melodies remain, but the solo parts are experimental and sometimes quite atmospherically. Although Sheep is partly written by bass player Seisser, the District 97 feel is clearly present. This keyboard driven composition holds fine bass parts as well as a dedicated distorted guitar solo. The piano parts are the icing on this one. With Sea I Provide the album provides us with, for what District 97 sees as an easy, accessible rock track. One of my personal favourites on the album is Bread & Yarn. Jim takes over the lead vocals here, perfectly seconded by Leslie. A smooth electric piano leads us through the song, where due to Jim's voice I am sometimes reminded of Alice In Chains, but just his vocal parts, not the composition itself. Halfway into the track the pronounced drums of Jonathan take over the pace, only to leave it up to the piano again. An experimental explosion of guitar sounds finishes this beautiful composition. Again more solid is Trigger, dense and darker parts are combined with very fine drumming and threatening guitar riffs. After Orbit Mission is a short instrumental soundscape of experimental; I guess bass triggered sounds, which lead to Shapeshifter. A track where Leslie shines over solid riffs or subtle chord progressions. I just love the signature drum versus bass and guitar rhythms of this band. The following Blueprint, like the previous track has that fine combination of smooth vocal parts that lead to a powerful instrumental part. Both keyboards and guitars perfectly work together in this one. The final track Ghost Girl is a more than ten minute's highlight. Strong vocal parts, powerful bass and guitars battling with the drums. All backed up by a nice layer of keyboards.
With Screens, District 97 took the known elements and added more experimental sounds, twisted guitar soloing and a dash of alternative rock to their already extended style. Musically I totally love their music and I love how Leslie always finds her way through the technical music. Screens again is a one of a kind experience.
****+ Pedro Bekkers (edited by Tracy van Os van den Abeelen)
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