When I was younger, I eagerly awaited the next release in K Records’ “International Pop Underground” series, the latest Slumberland 7"s and the bizarrely entitled Sarah Records compilations, for they seemed to bring together everything which was promising in independent music. Bespectacled intellect and shyness released in a groundswell of anxious feedback; pop so breathlessly catchy that dozens of tracks raced by so quickly that I needed to immediately replay the records in an attempt to digest; lyrics alternately scholarly and silly, sometimes drenched in muddy guitar, sometimes exposed as a scattered rhythm section and acoustic guitar provided little cover.
Listening to the Revolutionary Hydra’s second LP, The Antiphony, I suspect this Northwest collective was caught in the same indie pop scene, as they make me feel so young and hopeful by offering a bounty of the diverse sounds which made the college radio of the early 1990s so essential. Which is not to say that the Revolutionary Hydra sounds dated—to the contrary, I’m sure many a critic has (somewhat aptly) compared them to contemporaries as stylish and diverse as Death Cab for Cutie (with whom the Hydra shares several members), Blonde Redhead, Jim O’Rourke, and yes, even Belle & Sebastian. It is just that the feeling the Revolutionary Hydra inspires is a throwback to an often better, more satisfying era of music when “alternative” did not refer to Matchbox 20 or Limp Bizkit.
From the opening bars of “There Is a Certain Shift”, the Revolutionary Hydra’s songwriting team, composed of brothers Jay (vocals) and Joe Chilcote (guitar and vocals), latches onto something special. Guitars that are oddly sunny yet dingy propel the song as the rhythm section’s eccentricity easily overshadows its looseness. Chilcote’s vocals are breezy, functional but not outstanding as little more is required within this pop bounce. Yet, on “Great Mumping Villains”, he shows that the vocals will also provide a touchstone on these songs—his reproachful call “It’s time to sail to sea, sailing so Mediterraneanly, on cheap wine” is also curiously inviting. The Revolutionary Hydra batter through two tracks, displaying a rawer live sound before introducing the absolutely splendid title track. “The Antiphony” works in two movements, the first is sparse and banjo heavy as Chilcote trades barbs with Allisyn Levy’s breathy vocals. The second, clearly delineated by a pause after the vocals fade, begins with a hummable acoustic guitar melody as Chilcote’s vocal adopts a more spacious quality as he pleads, “I would like to go to Virginia” like a dejected child stuck in the backseat. That song is just one of many examples of the Revolutionary Hydra’s ability to break a song into many divergent pieces that reassemble to form a unique harmony as the track unfolds. On “Crazy Mike’s Video”, a seemingly conventional pop-punk track binds itself to a choir-like “bah bah bah” chorus reminiscent of many songs within the Sarah Records vein as well as the Spector-sound.
The only salient criticism of The Antiphony is that with 17 tracks it sometimes overstays its welcome. A few songs seem like throwaways, but even so, the LP never loses its audience. As after a minor annoyance like “Freemasons: Shinplaster or Shinsplints”, the Revolutionary Hydra soon provides more golden tracks like “Inchoate Goes the Snow Route”, “Dunkirk”, or Levy’s absurd but adorable “Bunny Parade”. Amazingly, over the course of one band’s LP, I’ve somehow recaptured the feelings which had been lost in the indie ether since those series of early 1990s 7"s and compilations.