With its grandiose opener "If I Survive" and the seminal "Finished Symphony," 1999's Wide Angle was the dramatic and melodically expansive debut that laid the template for their unique sound. The 2003 follow-up, Morning Sci Fi, was a darker, spacier affair that balanced cinematic atmospheres with Peter Hook-penned basslines. Then, in 2006, I Choose Noise seemed to be the culmination of its predecessors. Despite the latter two albums both having their own distinct sound, however, Mike Truman and Chris Healings never strayed very far from the original trademark motif of their debut.
The press release for Disappear Here would have you believe that this is the album that breaks the mould, stating that "it offers a lot more than anything Hybrid has ever previously written by pushing boundaries in every way." Apart from the presence of live drums, though, Disappear Here is not that much of a departure sonically. It's structurally that the difference can be heard: The group utilises song-based structures on a more regular basis, no doubt influenced by the addition of newest member, singer/songwriter Charlotte James.
In terms of the downbeat numbers, their efforts have certainly come to fruition. With her ballad-like vocal stylings floating atop classical piano chords and acoustic guitars on tracks like "Disappear Here," "Every Word" and "Numb," James has brought a certain maturity to the fold. Choruses are more present than ever before, with the breakdown in "Break My Soul" easily the most stirring.
It's when Hybrid try to pull off the big, epic tracks they're so well known for that things don't seem to go down as well. "Can You Hear Me" threatens to be the best thing on Disappear Here, but is let down by the cheap, watered down poignancy of the lyrics ("I'm awake today, I've got something to say, can you hear me now?"). "Original Sin" pales in comparison to past triumphs like "True to Form," and "The Formula of Fear" feels like Hybrid-by-the-numbers. There's a lack of atmospheric tension here, which had always given their music a cinematic presence in the past.
While the standard of production on Disappear Here is, as always with Hybrid, top notch, they've done better album-wise in the past. Nevertheless, their ambition for more refined songwriting, and their evolution into a band poses the possibility that in a live setting, this album may just come into its own.