Singer-songwriter Charlotte James joins Hybrid, and transforms the band from a bombastic dance act into an altogether more haunting project.
Electronic dance music has always hailed from another world, whether it be dubstep, drum & bass, trance, or that which utilizes beats and sequencers whilst being seemingly uninterested in being categorized. In their 14 years, Hybrid have fallen effortlessly into the latter category. Ethereal Ibiza ambiences envelop their extravagant orchestral arrangements, most famously on the classic "Finished Symphony", on which stainless-steel synths bubble up to the surface, while complex beats threaten to bubble over. Taking the beachgazing thoughtfulness of Chicane and the crash-and-burn drive of Tiësto, Hybrid are never short of ideas to make their own.
The cover of Disappear Here gives mixed messages: Compared to the eerie Aphex Twin-esque twisted imagery that usually graces their album covers, Disappear Here's artwork is, by contrast, surprisingly subtle and vague. It is unclear whether we are looking at night or day, threat or safety, and this reflects the nature of the music. The standard orchestral arrangements still frequent the music, but what really takes the fore on this record is a surprising amount of standard song structures -- and more than a scattering of acoustic and electric guitars. This is in no small part due to new member singer-songwriter Charlotte James, who would presumably attempt to tame Hybrid’s bombastic arrangements.
Instead, what we have here is something rather novel. Disappear Here takes a long, hard look into the soul of goth rock, applying that framework to the complex dance beats that Hybrid are known for. In essence, this record combines two not entirely distinctive genres into a new not entirely distinctive genre, using the subtleties and successful elements of both to create surprisingly affecting atmospheres and, above all, a collection of haunting songs.
The arrangements are more detailed and brilliant than ever, after welcoming back arranger Andrew Skeet for the first time since 2003's Morning Sci-Fi. The first single "Break My Soul" could be Massive Attack covering Cradle of Filth, with twitchy staccato strings and ominous cellos that descend into a warm pool of acoustics and shimmering violins. While the title track threatens to float away, it's kept down to earth by a heavy beat: Its trippy rhythms and the slurred vocals of Charlotte James herself produce a typically downtempo mood that could be pigeon-holed as "chill-out" if it didn't build to an emotionally shaken climax. Lyrically, James specifies her role in the band here: "In the wrong house, in the wrong room". On the contrary, she's just pushed Hybrid to their limit.
And the way Hybrid pushes those limits shows defiantly the futility of trying to apply generic definitions to the band. Opening pair "Empire" and "Can You Hear Me" dramatically blend the gothic EBM synths and icy strings one expects of the band with a driving rhythm section taken from a Paradise Lost record, as monotonous guitar chords plow their way through Hybrid's foundations and ethereal voices shimmer overhead. The prominence of James' voice on album highlight "Formula of Fear" even brings to mind the rose-tinted romanticism of Lacuna Coil and The Gathering. But there is no romance here -- "Formula of Fear" lives up to its name indeed. The closer "Numb" starts as a bravely stripped-down effort, a simple piano and vocal piece initially that's met halfway through by trembling orchestral flourishes and forceful drumming, as if to remind the listener that Hybrid are still there. As all the separate elements of the song melt down into a mist of echoes, James murmurs "I just lost control". And who can blame her? This is a record that wouldn't be half as good if it didn't lose control and ignore its supposed boundaries. What good are boundaries for if no one crosses them anyway?
When you stop expecting Disappear Here to be a dance record, your ears adjust to a sound that ushers in deliciously uneasy, dark atmospheres that are worth hearing for fans of any genre.