The Revolutionary Hydra – The Antiphony

This is one of the most difficult albums I’ve had to listen to all year. That’s not because it’s bad, because these songs are really quite good, and fans of slightly quirky indie-pop will rejoice at these songs. But taken as an album, there is almost no cohesion. The Revolutionary Hydra is, apparently, a collective of artists each putting in their two cents. There is an overall vote, apparently, from Chris Walla, but the varied influences and contributions makes for a disconcerting flow here.

That means it’s difficult to label The Revolutionary Hydra, which might be exactly what this group was going for. One moment you are treated to a Guided By Voices-style rock song, complete with riffing guitars and vocals that seem straight out of your science fiction comic book, and the next you get a quirky, lilting Pavement-esque idiosyncratic rock song. There’s something of a Belle & Sebastian pretty pop moment once, and then a Flaming Lips quirky, lofty pop moment.

Like a hydra, this group has many heads, and it appears that one head is seldom aware of what the next is doing. That’s not saying the songs themselves are loose and confusing, because each song is tight and precise. But they vary so significantly from one to the next that it’s hard to keep track. Couple that with lyrics that are alternatively serious, silly, and cryptic and sung with a kind of nasal feel that indie-pop kids should eat up, and you get a mighty strange album.

So things start off soundly, with “There is a Certain Shift” becoming an intriguing blend of a more melodic Sebadoh-style pop/rock hybrid. And it has a certain charm to this song, perhaps through the guitar picking. Then “Great Mumping Villains” is, assumedly, a totally different band, as the melodic guitar is replaced by a mellow, subtly pop playfulness. “Foreign Academies” is straight out of an early Guided By Voices album, complete with the vocal style and subtle guitar lines. “The Antiphony,” one of the best tracks here, again is completely different, following a plucked banjo line and a poppy beat, incorporating piano as a pretty background, using male and female vocals to harmonize so lovely, and moving along slowly but surely, this song is one of the most unique and endearing on the album, even as it flows, at the end, into an entirely different acoustic guitar-driven song. “Freemasons: Shinplaster or Shinsplints” is as unusual as its name, a kind of lo-fi take on Pavement mixed with some frenzied guitar and outright screaming. Now where the hell did that come from? “Co-Pilots of the LSD Scene” is a slow and slightly bouncy pop song that is just slightly off in a rather inexplicable way (perhaps based on the title?). Another good song is the lovely rock song, complete with some sonic background guitar behind a pretty melody, “Inchoate Goes the Snow Route,” even with its odd, backwards-talking interlude. “Semaphore Should be Sufficient” is a very nice pop song, a bit more upbeat and quite charming, except for the odd bangs that keep coming in. “Dunkirk” uses a lot of tambourine and organ and has a weird Belle & Sebastian vs. Pavement feel to it. And out of left field, “Bunny Parade” has a darker, Johnny Cash style feel to it, accompanied by some great female vocals and some groovy moogy keys. And the album finishes with a minute-plus acoustic song, “Where We Intersect is Collide” that is almost folkish.

Every time I listen to this album, I’m struck by how good some of these songs are. The title track, especially, is an excellent song. Fans of the bands mentioned throughout this review will no doubt enjoy these songs as well. But there’s something wrong with this album. It’s too long, with 17 tracks, and too varied. I get lost from one serious and subtle song to the next crazy pop ditty. I get what The Revolutionary Hydra are trying to do, but I just can’t get into it. Perhaps if they cut off one or two heads, things might flow a little more consistently, and maybe just a hint less revolutionary.