The Tuk Ten: Day 3 — District 97, In Vaults (2015)

Some of you reading this may have no idea who District 97 is.  So, for Day Three of The Tuk Ten (rock edition!), let me acquaint you with them. D97 hails from Chicago, Illinois, and have followed an indie rock pathway across the United States and throughout Europe, all on a DIY and crowdfunded model.  This is very much a rock band for modern times. For reasons explained below, In Vaults is definitely in my very own personal Top Ten. 

In Vaults is the band’s third studio album, and really showcases the band’s range as songwriters, arrangers, and performers. There are moments of acoustic guitar, there are moments of proto-metal, there are moments of straight ahead rock and roll, all while juggling some odd time signatures so adeptly that the listener just grooves along, oblivious that there are some serious math-rock moments on the record. D97 is the most musically adventurous rock band I have heard in a very, very long time. 

District 97 is an important band for quite a few reasons. The legends of yesteryear are leaving us. Greg Lake, Keith Emerson, John Entwistle, Chris Squire, Glenn Frey, Tom Petty, Chris Cornell, and the late John Wetton. The list goes on and on. In the progressive rock world, with the retirement of Rush, the absence of ELP, Genesis, and the decline of Yes, there is a serious void in this corner of the musical world. This is where D97 comes in. In many ways, some covert and some overt, the torch has passed to young bands, with D97 being one of the most visible. 

This was poignantly demonstrated when the late John Wetton (King Crimson, Asia, UK) recorded a vocal duet on D97’s album Trouble With Machines, released in 2012.  That collaboration led to a brief European tour in 2013, which saw Wetton sing live with the band, and a substantial amount of the live set included King Crimson heavyweight classics such as Book of Saturday, 21st Century Schizoid Man, Starless and Easy Money, songs which hadn’t seen the light of day in Crimson’s own live performances in decades.  Those performances birthed a terrific live album entitled One More Red Night, released in 2014. 

So, D97 is bringing the prog rock genre forward, marrying it with a modern sound that brings in many different influences. The band does invite comparisons to King Crimson in an oblique way. No one is Robert Fripp or Bill Bruford, and no band is King Crimson which, to many prog fans, sits atop the mountain, even higher than more commercially accepted bands like Pink Floyd or The Moody Blues. 

Yet, the resemblance remains. D97 and Crimson may not be siblings, but they might however be distant cousins. 

In an interview on my podcast, CRE8Rconfidential, D97 guitarist Jim Tashjian said, “[w]e all grew up listening to the rock music of the nineties. Someone told us last night we sounded like Rage Against the Machine, which I like a lot.”  There are hints of many different modern bands and influences in D97’s sound, but the band takes all of those influences and fuses and blends them into something new and fresh.  

The band first caught my attention when I stumbled upon a video for a track called “I Can’t Take You With Me”, from the band’s 2012 release Hybrid Child.  The intro and pre chorus are in a strident 7/8 time signature (that recalls a passage from an old Rush song called Subdivisions, the opening track from their 1981 album Signals) while the verses and chorus are power pop goodness that hearken back to classic Ann Wilson and Heart. 

From there, I started to discover D97’s catalogue, which brings us back to In Vaults. 

There are many echoes of the past on this record, whether from King Crimson, Soundgarden (check out the track On Paper), Heart, Genesis or Yes (particularly from 5:45 to the end of the final track, Blinding Vision).  Those echoes are brought forward to the present — and into the future — by District 97 with all the guts and musical chops that this terrific young ensemble brings to bear.  

Track listing:
Snow Country
Death by a Thousand Cuts
Handlebars
A Lottery
All’s Well That Ends Well
Takeover
On Paper
Learn from Danny
Blinding Vision

Bryan Tuk is a writer, attorney and musician. His recent book: risk, create, change: a survival guide for startups and creators, is available on Amazon. You can find out more about Bryan’s writings and music at http://riskcreatechange.com

His law practice represents clients throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey and focuses on arts & entertainment law matters, copyrights, trademarks, nonprofit organizations, startups and entrepreneurs. You can learn about Bryan’s law practice at http://tuklaw.com.

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