on 31 August 2006
That's the big question, should you choose it? Myself and numerous others fell in love with Hybrid's first album, Wide Angle and ever since have been ardent fans of the pair. So the expectations for their second album, Morning Sci-Fi (MSF) were incredibly high and although it garnered Hybrid with a few new fans and many old fans said they liked it, it didn't live up to the expectations most had for the album and left the majority disappointed. Mike from Hybrid himself recently said he thought they had "overcooked it" and they were less than happy with the result.
So if you bought MSF and were wondering should you go back and give the boys another go, should you choose noise? Or should you abstain?
I personally feel the answer is a resounding YES! "I Choose Noise" (ICN) is finally another Hybrid masterpiece after many years of waiting, indeed since last century. I may get in trouble for using the word masterpiece as it's not without it's faults but the good far far outweighs what I can only term the less-good.
For those expecting a Wide Angle 2, I think you still may be under-whelmed by a great number of the tracks to begin with. The album retains a lot of the moody dark ambience of MSF whilst the strings and emotion in Wide Angle have really returned. I think Hybrid realise they could never make a wide angle 2, trying to replicate that first album would be a mistake as failure is almost inevitable since so many people already believe it's un-topple-able , they have to move onward and try new things. ICN is so much more successful than MSF was at doing that.
Right from the introduction track, "Secret circles", you can tell this is going to be something special, strings stirring, welcoming you to the start of the first main track, "Dogstar".
"Dogstar", produced with collaboration with Perry Farrell who provides the vocals on the track is a moody anthem with more akin to MSF than wide angle. The dark bass keeps momentum while laden strings fill nicely with Perry's voice reaching a beautiful chorus and break down. The lyrics, though not all that evolved, fit nicely with the track and the use of acoustic guitar in parts again fits well with Perry's voice. It's a good start to the album. By no means one of my favourite tracks and may leave many worried they might be in for MSF 2 but listening on soon puts to rest this niggling doubt.
As the final synth sounds of "Dogstar" dissolve away, the title track, I choose noise creeps in. Strings accompanying a very tech style beat (the main theme of the track) an angry sound with a slow breakbeat accompaniment. With occasional flourishes of strings it becomes more and more techno sounding and industrial, frantic repetitive string structures leading to a slow lamenting passage midway through the track. It continues to crescendo and build towards the 5 minute mark and then the strings take over and the tune ebbs away like some nightmarish storm that has just passed. Cracking stuff, dark, dirty and beautiful.
Then "Falling down" kicks in, strings and orchestral sounds fill the introduction as does a very heavy bass guitar. Then a deep driving progressive bass lets you know you've entered the real start of the tune, again the bass guitar rhythm continues and the lyrics, provided by Judie Tzuke begin to fill the air. The driving bass line makes for a good listen but I can't help listening and thinking this could have been a beautiful Kirsty Hawkshaw filled number and I'm settling for something less. It's not that Judie's voice isn't good, it's just a track I don't feel Hybrid used to fruition and I'm a sucker for anything Kirsty sings on when they didn't use her on this album for anything lyrical. It's enjoyable but it's not quite as accomplished as the other tracks on the album though the orchestral scoring is rather enjoyable.
"Last man standing" then follows, another track I'm more familiar with having been listening to this for a few weeks since it's appearance as the second track on the ICN EP. Numerous people I've seen liken this track to "Marrakech" from MSF and I completely agree. The only disagreement I have with some is that some feel that this isn't as good. For me this absolutely eclipses "Marrakech". On my first listen to the track I dismissed it as a rather uninspiring, featureless track (I was listening on poor quality headphones at work though!), but this is a good example of why I think ICN is something that perhaps will not hit you on it's first spin, but grow rapidly on you like some breakbeat disease. This track is infectious and possibly should be quarantined for my own good. Tribal drums, barks and growls, voodoo-esque sounds that could `wake the dead'. I love it and really hope I get to hear this on the dance floor some day.
Then into possibly the hardest track to grasp. "Hooligan Spirit" is only the second track I've ever heard in the world of dance music to be composed in 6/8 time, the notable other one being "6/8 war" on "Rhythm and Stealth" by Leftfield. That particularly left field track is an absolute stormer as well so this has a lot to live up to. First off, if you can here the 6/8 nature of the track, pay attention to the underlying beat which is on the 1st and 4th beat of each bar of 6. Then listen to the above sounds and you can hear a tat-tat-tat sound starting on each beat clearly revealing the underlying time signature. This track fits in well after "Last Man Standing". The growling sound still remaining to some degree, strange creeks, bleeps, wipes and hits. A very atmospheric track, I could imagine running like crazy away from something particularly nasty in the world of Doom. Again the strings underlying the tune at certain points add to the eerie nature and the final piano sound is incredibly haunting. It was a long time before I got into this one having previously read in an online review that the reviewer thought it was one of the highlights of the album. I'm really starting to agree.
"Choke" then returns to more of a classic song structure and at least back to a regular time signature. A moody start, lots of `wah's' and `ah's' to start with before John Graham, better known as one half of Quiver, comes in with vocals. Luckily he does not 'Choke' and instead provides this great 'slightly addled almost inebriated' tune with a slightly unnerving vocal line. The effects applied to his voice fit incredibly well with the effects applied to the instrumentation and you're not left feeling that this was something done to cover up the voice, it was well planned and orchestrated to combine seamlessly with the rest of the track. It make me think of "Absinthe dreams" a little from the last Way Out West album, mainly due to the out of control feeling both tracks created in my mind. Maybe Jody, Nick, Mike and Chris have been having some late night absinthe sessions in Hybrid's studio in Wales!
Then "Keep it in the family". I've heard this rumoured to be the second single off of the album to follow "Dogstar". It seems it would be a fairly logical choice, "falling down" perhaps would be a more logical choice but I would hope instead they'd put out track 9 which I'll get on to discuss in just a few sentences time. A few beats and a muffled arpeggio run emerge into arpeggiated strings. A slow flowing string section then emerges and the layers of strings build into an amazing cacophony. With the interspersed bleeps and hits this is so instantly identifiable as trade mark Hybrid and sends shivers down my spine. I love the album up until this point but I really feel as soon as this track starts, it really comes into its own. As the strings are cut and you're left with the sound of the guitar being plucked you know something awesome is about to happen. The passage that then follows is so emotional and positively oozes film score. As the strings begin to re-enter and the sound continues to flow, build, evolve constantly re-introducing elements from its start. I just sit their mesmerised, its just perfect and yet this still isn't my favourite track from the album.
That accolade is held by "Until tomorrow". It is a close call and both "Keep it in the family" and "Just for today" are worthy contenders, there is just something new about this track, not particularly like anything Hybrid have done before and I simply love it. The acoustic guitar lead in instantly sets your attention, then John Graham is back in the booth providing a beautiful vocal line. The warmth of the sound, bird tweets and various little additions are a great example of the level of detail and the incredible production that has gone into the whole of this album. As the 'Sunday morning' echoes away at the end of the first vocal section you're left expecting some kind of hybrid explosion as the tune ebbs away into an acoustic guitar and bleep filled section. Instead it enters back with John repeating "Until tomorrow" and building with samples from his first verse, effects applied to each you can still hear the tune building. Surely it will now take off? The suspense is almost killing me as instead the tune dips again and a lush guitar solo enters followed by another verse from John. The drum hits in the background growing and slowly being added to. It's almost at the 5 minute point, surely this time it must break? And yes, it erupts into this stunning climax section. The warm waves wash over you, the break beat truly hits as John continues to assure you "Until tomorrow" and a female `Ooh' vocal washes over the top (Maybe Kirsty, I don't know) and all too soon it's over. YOU MUST HEAR THIS TRACK.
Then into "Dream stalker". This again is a great tune. I was confused for a while as I presumed this would be related to night stalker which they had been playing in clubs around 6 months ago. That was incredibly dark track with a talking section by a poet containing some classic lines such as "I'll pillage your village and loop it as a sample" and "make your head go all, cumulus nimbus". It was a fun track, I don't think it would have fitted well at this point in the album though so I'm happy that it seems to have been replaced by "Dream stalker". Echoing guitar and a slowly crescendoing bass sound are joined by a second guitar mimicking the first sound quite closely and then it erupts into breakbeat. Nice to get one good breakbeat dance number right from the start. Then it cuts to the second guitar sound again before bringing back in the breaks. This is good fun, again I don't think the most technically advanced track on the album but I reckon it would be fun jumping around to this is in a dingy club somewhere near you. A spooky echo joins the guitar and the tune breaks down to leave the echo along with the bleeps and squelches similar to those from other Hybrid tracks like visible noise. Then, as with the Night Stalker track, it enters a spoken passage. Luckily this doesn't last long enough to distract and actually breaks up the track nicely before that second guitar motif is back once again keying us in the breaks are to return some 16 bars later as the track beats and bops along to its conclusion.
The album comes to a close with "Just for today". Also the last song on the ICN EP, this is absolutely the way to finish an album. Another film score type track, this is the only track on the album I could somehow picture having been placed on Wide Angle. The warbling tonal sound (I can't quite describe that one!) interspaced with long bowed sections from the strings sounds very melodic and euphoric. As the tonal sound climbs twice and the dark deep strings are made way for by the orchestra and then joined by them once again, Hybrid insert exactly the right level of electronica to accompany the strings but so neither is over-powered. Again, perfect. The driving progressive bass then comes in as the melodic strings flow along and the track just continues to pass, this is so obviously a continual evolution of sound split into three main sections. The first change occurs very obviously at the climax of strings as you hear Kirsty Hawkshaw's wailing voice for the first time properly on the track. The strings die away and clear to make way for her amazing voice. Again shivers down the spine as she crescendos and quickly peaks to be taken over by strings which build and build until an absolutely manic breakbeat section erupts which has me dancing around my decks like someone has run 10,000 volts through my body. This continues and Kirsty joins in again before it climaxes for a second time and dies almost completely. The end is nigh as we move into the final section, we're told in no uncertain terms that we've had our fill of Hybrid, but they'll give us one last dose of some lush soaring strings to send us on our way.
Sit down, wipe your forehead and give that whole thing some thought!
That review clearly was all way way too long. If you read all that then you must be some kind of masochist but I hope at least some parts of it are useful.
Obviously I'm a huge Hybrid fan and slightly biased, I think a 4.5 out of 5 rating would have been better if I could but I can't call the whole album perfect so it's not getting a 5. There are some elements of the album though that I truly feel are perfect.
Go get it, I'm sure you can't be disappointed. Oh and lastly, if you have read this far, like on MSF there is supposed to be a hidden track on the album. I've not got my hard copy yet, that is due in the post any day now so I can't confirm this but see if you can find it!