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It's interesting to see that American prog-rock/metal outfit District 97 are still using the fact they're fronted by a former American Idol finalist (Leslie Hunt) as a selling point...or at least their label are responsible for such. I remember reviewing their 2010 debut album, 'Hybrid Child', where I commented that it seemed to be something of a redundant fact in the context of their adopted genre. However, I'll retract that judgement and say, fuck it, if it garners them a degree of attention or curiosity above other bands in the prog genre then good luck to 'em. And I guess it's refreshing to witness an American Idol contestant actually using their vocal talent in a more sincere and worthy manner beyond a karaoke-based competition and pursuing a path away from commercial, chart-friendly pop and rock. So yeah, my only thought on this now is - just what the hell would Simon Cowell make of District 97?! I'm guessing Hunt wouldn't have progressed as far as she did in American Idol had she turned up and covered Rush or Spock's Beard songs!

Okay, that's the American Idol bit out of the way...with District 97 being a progressive band, have they actually progressed between releases? Generally, yes. They're still crafting music in a largely generic-based rather than genuinely progressive mould but their sophomore album is certainly a step forward. Whereas I found 'Hybrid Child' to be an album of two halves with the substandard and patchy quality of first half compromising the generally much better music on the second, 'Trouble With Machines' is a far more consistent effort. A better produced affair but still with a nicely organic production where instruments and vocals sound 'alive', the biggest step forward is in the actual songwriting. Flashes of different time signatures and other generic prog traits punctuate the songs throughout although the music demonstrates a greater maturity in both composition and execution than on their previous effort.

Although there are fleeting passages of heavied up music that could be loosely described as metal, District 97 are better described, and digested, as a prog-rock troupe. There are even brief moments of what could be construed as pop-punk ('Open Your Eyes') thrown into the pot and encompassed by complex song arrangements...complex but with compositional coherence as there's a nice flow to much of the music. And Hunt's vocals are quite wonderful - smooth-toned and euphonically pleasing to the ear over some of the musical complexity (which helps the coherence and flow), although she can also rock it up with a more powerful delivery over heavier sections. King Crimson/Asia bassist John Wetton even contributes a few vocals on one track ('The Perfect Young Man') so perhaps that's a sign they're slowly becoming accepted as a serious act within the prog rock genre.

Packaged with a bonus DVD (well, the first 2,000 copies of the release are) that contains a live performance from the band's appearance at the Rites of Spring Festival last year in Gettysburg, PA, it's a nice addition that showcases the live abilities of these talented musicians as they perform tracks from both their debut album and this one. However, while technically great, they're not the most visually exciting of bands to watch as only Hunt engages in any real energetic movement around the stage with other members looking somewhat bored. Still, they sound great which is a solid foundation upon which to build up their confidence on the stage in the future with more of an actual 'performance'.

All in all, a definite improvement over 'Hybrid Child' and worth a listen if occasionally heavy prog-rock is your bag, or you just want to hear what the resulting music of a rebel from a Simon Cowell karaoke contest sounds like.
The Laser's Edge
Review by Mark Holmes
1st Oct 2012
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
"...the music demonstrates a greater maturity in both composition and execution than on their previous effort."