Is it possible to age gracefully in clubland? Hybrid's latest effort, Morning Sci-Fi (Distinct'ive, 2003), is less effusive, grandiose and sweetly euphoric

Is it possible to age gracefully in clubland? Hybrid's latest effort, Morning Sci-Fi (Distinct'ive, 2003), is less effusive, grandiose and sweetly euphoric than 1999's Wide Angle (Distinct'ive), but it nonetheless sweeps effortlessly through progressive house, breaks and rock — yes, rock — while maintaining a balance between dancefloor compatibility and at-home listening. Although Hybrid, the South Wales-based duo of Mike Truman and Chris Healings, attained commercial success during trance's heyday with their unusual amalgamation of rolling breakbeats, luscious string samples and driving kick drums, the group has morphed into an equally striking but far more intriguing version of itself. Call it maturity; call it experience: Hybrid is back to making tunes the old-fashioned way.

“We just wanted everything to feel a little bit more like a band playing and less like a couple of producers toying around with Pro Tools,” Truman says earnestly. “We couldn't just do as good as Wide Angle. We had to try and at least surpass it, [and] I think we've certainly done something a bit different.”

Different, indeed. Morning Sci-Fi is a far more contemplative, introspective album, due in part to the addition of singer/guitarist/co-writer Adam Taylor. With Taylor in the mix, Truman and Healings took a different approach to their songwriting. “On the first album, we used to finish a track completely and send it out to try to get vocals onto them,” Healings says. “With Adam, we'll have him come over with a few songs, and we'll take a few of them to work with.”

Starting with Taylor's chords and melodies essentially enabled them to zero in on the emotional focal point of the songs — all the better for translating them to a live setting later on. “The key to really good songwriting is to be able to have the vocalist sing the song back and play it over piano or guitar,” Truman explains. “If the song works in its simplest, most bare-bones kind of form, you know you're on to a winner. But if it needs all the tricks and edits to make it sound good, the song's probably not that good in the first place. So we do acoustic versions of tracks before we'll carry on with it. Then, we start writing the track around it and treating it as a remix, which is great for us because that's something we're used to doing.”

After grabbing vocal snippets and guitar work from Taylor, Healings and Truman work with their extensive studio setup to complete the track. A massive Digidesign Pro Tools bank comes in handy; Native Instruments Reaktor gets a fair share of work (“80 percent of the work I do is on Reaktor,” Healings says); an Akai S6000 and Logic EXS24 help out with writing and arranging strings; and programs including SuperCollider and Native Instruments Absynth also weigh in.

Still, a healthy amount of the samples are recorded in-studio. One of the more notable efforts here comes from New Order's Peter Hook, who contributes a bangin' bass line to “True to Form.” Although Hybrid's love affair with rock and pop continues (“I'm Still Awake,” for instance, verges on acoustic-ballad territory), they're still firmly entrenched in their electronic ways. Despite the increasingly high-tech gadgets they see on the market, their love of acoustic instruments still dies hard. “We don't like to go too live,” Healings says, noting that the bass guitar on “Awake” is bolstered by a synth. “Sometimes, you need that studio backing, that drive, that computerized 808 four-to-the-floor beat.” Adds Truman: “The bridge between straight-up rock and dance we don't think has really been crossed successfully. That's what we're really trying to do, I suppose.”