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District 97 — Stay for the Ending
(Spirit of Unicorn SOUMCD130, 2023, CD)

by Jon Davis, Published 2023-12-05

Stay for the Ending Cover art

It’s been a few years since the last studio album from District 97. Screens (2019) was an appealing entry into the arena of modern hard rock with progressive embellishments, and Stay for the Ending continues in the same vein. Right off the bat, the title track features a killer riff enhanced with lots of precise rhythmic variations courtesy of bassist Tim Seisser and drummer Jonathan Schang. Jim Tashjian’s guitar is outstanding, meshing perfectly with the rhythm section and providing lots of flare besides; Andrew Lawrence’s keyboards function in multiple ways, sometimes providing atmospheric pads and at other times stepping up for either busy backing or solos. The final ingredient, of course, is Leslie Hunt’s voice, and she is in fine form here, whether on the powerful choruses or the more intimate verses that show up from time to time over the ten songs. Listening to her singing is refreshing in today’s musical climate — in the quiet sections, she doesn’t slip into the breathy, cutesy tone that’s so common, and when she shifts into high gear, she utilizes just the right touch of vibrato and doesn’t slip into distracting, show-offy runs. And there is no detectable Auto-Tune. The stylistic variety between tracks is very enjoyable, and not in the forced way some bands will throw in a reggae-influenced track or a blues. They present organic variations to their style which change the mood without abandoning their identity. “Crossover,” for example, is built up from muted plucked notes rather than ringing guitar strings. Busy riffing is balanced by sparse rhythms, and the “fill” moments are spread among the musicians. One way of thinking of District 97 is to imagine Moving Pictures era Rush crossed with Signify era Porcupine Tree interpreted by a top-notch female singer. Stay for the Ending is another solid winner from District 97.

Filed under: New releases, 2023 releases

Related artist(s): District 97, Leslie Hunt

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