Welcome to day two of my ‘Album Of The Year 2015’ countdown. If you missed the opening instalment of what is a series that will either make or break me, you can check it out right here: Album of the Year 2015 – Number 30.
In the past, I have stuck to a top 20 releases but it’s not misplaced hyperbole to state that, for my tastes at least, 2015 has been a huge year, one of the very best. It has overflowed with great music from new and established artists alike. I say it every year but it has been a huge headache for me to choose the very best records, so much so that I felt I had no choice but to increase the countdown to 30. I did try 25, believe me, I did. But even that was impossible. Even at 30, I know that I have had to make some tough choices and exclude some great albums. Therefore, if it’s included in this list, you can take it from me that it is fantastic.
A reminder that, essentially, from 30-16, the numbering is a little more arbitrary, whilst the 15-1 positions are strictly ordered according to my specific and utterly subjective opinion. And with that, I bring you my next choice:
Longer-term readers of my blog will know that I reviewed this album in full earlier in the year. If you’re interested in reading the full review, it can be accessed here.
To put it bluntly, this album took an awful lot of time to sink in and work its magic on me. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that, on a first listen, I didn’t like it at all. It was too quirky, too disjointed, too all-over-the-place and it lacked enough by way of hooks or immediate melodies to grab my attention. However, as a prog fan, I know that it’s important not to dismiss something immediately and I’m glad that I didn’t because after several spins, my opinion is vastly different from that initial dislike.
To quote my review, “District 97 do not sound like anyone else. There are hints of others here and there, most notably Madder Mortem in terms of Leslie Hunt’s vocal delivery and perhaps prog newcomers Maschine or To-Mera in some of the wider song structures. I even hear occasional fleeting echoes of Haken which is nice. But essentially, District 97 have cultivated their own sound, for which they should rightly be applauded. Their brand of progressive rock/metal blends a myriad of styles into a cohesive whole, including rock, pop, jazz, fusion, even a smattering of classical and more extreme metal.”
When I initially thought that this record lacked enough melody and those hooks to draw the listener in, I was wrong. The opening track ‘Snow Country’ initially comes across as scitzophrenic and even a little discordant but eventually blossoms into a sophisticated composition that contains a real ear-worm of a chorus. And, as bonkers at it feels to begin with, I love the smoothness between the transitions that allows the Chicago-based proggers to really get away with what could otherwise be a real mess of a song. This smoothness and surprising subtleness permeates the entire record in actual fact so that the oddball moments, jazzy segments or weird time signatures blend in more than they perhaps should and make a lot more sense.
Unlike many other artists out there, District 97 also manage to make each individual song sound unique whilst keeping them all loosely within the District 97 sound. Be it a 70s-influenced keyboard sound, a dash of thrash metal or anything in between, this unique and highly talented act can pull it off and pull it off with really sophisticated aplomb.
Interested? You should be, because ‘In Vaults’ comes with a huge recommendation for open-minded fans of original and professionally-executed progressive music.