Black Halo brings Hybrid back to the artistic tapestry and it shows how the time of the pandemic never rusted their talent.
When one examines the history books for electronic music’s elites, they will undoubtedly find the likes of deadmau5, Armin van Buuren, David Guetta, Richie Hawtin, Carl Cox, and of course, Tiësto. If you peel the layers apart, one should also find Hybrid. Rising during the turn of the millennium, Hybrid’s lineup evolved from a group into the married duo of Charlotte and Mike Truman today as the decades passed. The back catalog touches on hits such as “Finished Symphony” which was remixed by deadmau5 early in his career, “Kid 2000” featuring Chrissie Hynde, and “The Formula of Fear” which debuted Charlotte’s vocal talents.
In 2018, the duo returned to the electronic sphere, releasing Light of the Fearless. The first artist album in almost a decade under the Hybrid name (they instead wrote scores for video games and films during their artist album lull), Light of the Fearless captured a zeitgeist of overcoming darkness, finding the desire and will to become greater, and, in my prior words, “embracing the chaos.”
Now, in 2021 as the global pandemic slowly ebbs away, Hybrid invigorates with their latest album Black Halo. This 11 track album pulls the creative genesis of Charlotte and Mike into combination with work from drummer Simon Hanson and guitarist/vocalist Stu Morgan. Merging their signature style of music the album plays in the cinematic and breakbeat realms. It’s not without its moments of other genres though – influences range from the soft beauty of classical in the use of pianos to the power and energy of rock music with the furious riffs from guitars. Intermingled is the vocal performance of Charlotte that brings warmth, passion, and strength.
Before we dive deeper into the album, grab yourself a copy of Hybrid’s Black Halo on the platform of your choice!
Stream Hybrid – Black Halo on Spotify:
Journey into the darker realms as you turn the key on the Black Halo experience.
The album opens with the first single, “Flashpoint,” which chills the bones, haunting deep into the being. Within the track is a spoken-word poem from James Scudamore – adding to the eerie mood as the pages begin to turn. Just take the lines in the middle of the poem: “And you: who never thought to question if this was how things were supposed to be. … History is contingency, and things could always have been otherwise; and still might. And still might will end in time all you held so perpetual. …”
There are moments where the fear creeps higher thanks to the heightened production – particularly during the various strained guitar licks throughout the track. The intermingling of deep growling bass and percolating synthetic stabs stretch expectations to crawl deep in the skin. If you missed the video when it dropped a few months back, take the journey below because a strange sci-fi world awaits!
The darkness gives way to “Lost Angels” – combining soft vocals from Charlotte with bubbly melodic elements that feel right out of BT’s back catalog. There is no doubt on the influence of classic trance on this one – yet it remains pegged to modern production sensibilities.
“No One Knows” pulls us back to the married couple only – a combines styles pulled pop-ballad structures and bands like Dirty Vegas. This one grabs like a folk song – getting into the roots of the soul while also bouncing on darker broken beats. Just take this lyric from the chorus as an example, “All those faces that you’ve drawn from | I can see through your porcelain.”
Then, Hybrid ressurects faith in the flip side!
As we flip the vinyl over to the B-side, the album’s second single, “Nails,” greets the listener’s ears. Fans of artists like Solarstone or BT will likely love this one – the whimsy of broken beats plays counter to Charlotte’s powerful vocal performance and some guitar work that recalls the finest from those artists. Further, the tribal drums yearn for audiences to respond – perhaps in a manner similar to Juno Reactor. The difference here is the rabbit hole is not the deepest black pit, but a pool of cold murky water in the light of a cenote.
Continuing on Hybrid grants us “Come Back To Me” – another married couple affair. This piece feels well written at home – a product of them working in unison on jam sessions. The elements are precise, articulated into their place without allowance to waver – and yet, perhaps Charlotte’s voice makes them feel warm and folky. There are also elements that feel hauntingly familiar from a number of films – yet, I cannot place them. Those string elements for example beckon my memory to come forth!
Now that we have come back, it’s time to “Carry Me Home.” A ballad of only Hybrid proportion – the soft piano and level vocal enchant the mind’s eye. Deeply expressed in the final line in each stanza of the chorus is the weary yearn for companionship, “when I get tired and alone / these crazy days divide my soul / will someone carry me home?” – something we all certainly can relate to in the hardships of the past year.
Hybrid injects some funk after the halfway mark of Black Halo.
Flip the album to its second disc (I’m keeping up with the vinyl analogies here) – and “Truth From The Lies” welcomes you with funky synthesizer lines, a subtle electro touch, and an energy that pulls from the ’80s arena rock. That is not a statement on possibly being over the top. Instead, it is just that there is this underpinned energy that wants to come out. Some of the synthesizer work in the reminds of yesteryear – especially that sexy little acid synth line.
Next up are the two shortest tracks of the album – clocking in at around five minutes. The first is “Seven Days,” which capitalizes on the folk touches that show how dark deep electronic can meet with the western country sound. Certainly, it wraps everything in cinematic glory – but the use of violins, acoustic guitars, and a healthy dose of reverb seriously eke out the setting sun on the high desert. That does not mean the track loses its roots as it breathes darkness and dystopian moods amid the broken beats.
Then, “Voices In The Static” appear on the horizon. If you wanted dark dystopian moods – this is it to a tee. If there is any singular track that shows why Hybrid became adept at sound tracks over all others, this is it. Big space is loosely filled with percussive rhythms, big metallic hits, distorted vocal elements, and in the midst of it all is a seductive yet haunting guitar line. Put on your best headphones, close your eyes, and dip your toes into the journey for this one!
Conclusions can feel empty, but Hybrid guides us onward!
Fittingly titled “End Of The World” definitely feels like a reflective piece on the last year of collective experiences we shared. There’s a quality here that evokes the moody essence of Zero 7’s best works, and yet the distinct touches of Hybrid make this stand out that much brighter. I will forgive you if you think this song is melancholic, but it is not. The use of some ’60s-era space launch communications and the chorus just shows how we are overcoming: “The world is falling apart, all around my head. The walls are tumbling down, and it looks like, this is the end. You can’t stay here my friend, so fly like a bird. I know I’ll see you again, at the end of the world.”
To end, Hybrid imparts listeners with another moment of hope overcoming the darkness: “Sky Full Of Diamonds.” Could you make allusions to Coldplay’s “Sky Full of Stars” – I suppose. There are some similarities here. This is easily the most arena-centered band affair of the album. Big heavy bass guitar elements, a drummer’s four-to-the-floor kick, a full-on clap beckoning you to join into the sound, and Charlotte’s best songstress moments shine here. My mind’s eye sees Charlotte’s performance on stage belting it out like the greatest female rock singers, like perhaps Stevie Nicks. There is up-swelling energy on the track, a tide of positive energy that rushes in, and then, the lingering line of the chorus resonates: “In this sky so full of diamonds, I can see how far I’ve come.”
Black Halo is a sonic tapestry, and deserves your attention, not just a passing moment.
Producing a catalog of music spanning a quarter of a century is no small feat. Hybrid’s six albums and countless singles and scoring work indeed due that and showcase their ability to adapt and also retain their own sound. Black Halo is a bold step in their catalog – capitalizing on their collective knowledge, working in compatriots to complete a vision, and rising above the sea of the expected. Is this an album everyone will love? Maybe not. Is it matured sound, retaining sonic vulnerability, and a crafted experience for listeners hoping for more than radio hits? Yes, and honestly, that’s exactly what’s made the pandemic so beautiful for artists. They’ve gotten to back into their artistic roots again, and it shows brilliantly on this album from Hybrid.
In closure, I feel the final spoken word poem at the album’s closing notes states it best:
Hybrid – Black Halo – Tracklist:
- Lost Angels
- No One Knows
- Come Back To Me
- Carry Me Home
- Truth From The Lies
- Seven Days
- Voices In The Static
- End Of The World
- Sky Full Of Diamonds