(Listen while you read)
I have this really cool, super-obscure compilation called Surfin’ In The Wasteland, printed on white vinyl with hand-painted sleeves and released on Rowntree Records. I think a friend bought it a few years back, left it on my shelf, and more or less forgot about it. Every now and then I get the urge to throw it on the turntable, and I always enjoy it immensely when it’s on. There are a handful of songs that aren’t so good, perhaps even cringe-worthy, but there are more than a few brilliant surprises and straight-up pop gems. And the whole compilation is pervaded by a playful, “anything goes” mentality, which makes it fun to listen to even the harshest or goofiest tracks. After merely revelling in the obscurity of the record for years, I finally looked into it and discovered that it was recorded in the early ‘00s at Richmond’s Earlham College as some sort of project by Andrew Myers, frontman for the band Red Queen Hypothesis. Myers and friends spent a few years carving out their own little niche of indie rock and garage pop, forming literally dozens of bands from only a handful of musicians and putting it all under the umbrella of Rowntree Records. For several years, Red Queen Hypothesis (now based out of Indianapolis) have quietly and steadily recorded an insane amount of music, seemingly just for their enjoyment of the creative process. I got a copy of their album Contorted In Deep Space in 2007, and I remember it as a playful collection of excellent psych-pop, jam-packed with hooks and melodies that strongly evoked mid-90s Elephant 6 bands. Turns out Andrew Myers and co. have continued to make a new album every year since then, and not too long ago, the five most recent Red Queen Hypothesis albums were uploaded to the band’s MFT page, complete with suggested songs from each album for newcomers. I’ve always enjoyed this band, but I know that they’ve remained relatively unknown over the years. That said, their unique blend of power pop, nerd rock, slacker punk, and garage rock is definitely worth exploring for fans of any of those genres or even just plain old “indie music” folks. So let’s dive in and have a look around: “Hindsight,” from the album Discotethic Centrifuge, is a gentle bit of bedroom pop with great lyrics that meditate on the passage of time: “In the past they say the world was black and white / And everything was classic like a piece of apple pie.” Elsewhere on the album, “Impossible Predicament” is a psych-fuzz rocker that clocks in at under a minute, and “Reynosa” is a laid back, tension-filled tribute to the early 90’s alternative sound that combines Sonic Youth and Pavement sensibilities.
(Cover image for Centrifugal Minds)
Red Queen Hypothesis’s newest album, Centrifugal Minds, feels like a focused and coherent effort at making a rock album. Songs like “3D Life” and “The One” are catchy and fun, with good riffs and simple arrangements, and they also capture what could be considered the “current” Red Queen sound: an upbeat, quirky, bare-bones version of indie rock with twisting melodies belted out in Myers’ trademark voice that is somewhere between a stoned-in-the-basement version of Jello Biafra and a college rock version of They Might Be Giants. Centrifugal Minds’ opening track, “The Haunting Exits” is yet another fitting example of RQH’s lately-evolved sound and accessible quasi-punk style.
I also like the band’s most lo-fi material, which always brings me back to the thrill I feel at listening to that Surfin’ In The Wasteland LP: it’s dirty, ugly, and still somehow amazing, and it might be what Red Queen Hypothesis does best. Check out 2007’s Mother Change Brain for the grittier, stranger version of the band: opener “Traits” is an instant classic of noisy psych pop, and “Naked and Free” evokes the golden, day-drunk haze of an earlier time in my life, blasting Slanted & Enchanted or Bee Thousand in college like it was 1994 all over again (but imagining that this time I was old enough to know what good music is). “The Most Magnificent Machine Ever Conceived” is a distant, hissy, Pollard-esque ballad, and “Feedback” is a brooding, acoustic dirge with just the right amount of tripped-out philosophizing.
(Handmade cover art for Mother Change Brain)
Kodachrome Parade and Pubic Stress also have some of that classic, lo-fi warped pop kind of feel (and no shortage of great songs), if that’s what you’re into, but I seriously recommend exploring all of Red Queen Hypothesis’s albums at MFT because each one has a slightly different purpose and sonic palate. And they all have a handful of amazing songs that keep you coming back. The songs are by turns experimental, bouncy, catchy, challenging, manic, punk-fueled, and ADD-leaning, but they are always rewarding. I doubt we’ll see this band playing hundreds of shows or touring around the world any time soon, but I’m sure that they could be more appreciated for what they are: excellent homespun rock and roll by a handful of intelligent, visionary people who genuinely have fun making music. And the results make it obvious that Red Queen Hypothesis just wants you to have a good time too.