Guitarist Ben Monder's 2013 album Hydra is an atmospheric, impressionistic album featuring arrangements built around his intricate, complex guitar lines. Monder has always played with a precise fingerpicking style that is classically influenced and often crosses over to jazz, new age music, flamenco, and experimental rock. Hydra is no exception and Monder fills the album with expansive and highly cerebral songs that are hard to pin down stylistically. The album follows up his equally exploratory, if more pared down, 2009 duo album with saxophonist Bill McHenry, Bloom. However, Hydra works better as a follow-up to his 2005 album, Oceana, as it features a similar ensemble with many of the same musicians. Joining Monder here are several longtime collaborators including bassist John Patitucci, bassist Skuli Sverrisson, and drummer Ted Poor. Also helping to create this ambient sound are vocalists Theo Bleckmann, Gian Slater, and Martha Cluver. Interestingly, rather than having them sing lyrics, Monder has the vocalists sing evocative, wordless parts along with his ensemble. The result is that the vocals become more like added instruments to the arrangements, giving the tracks an eerie, otherworldly quality. Together, Monder and his band create a highly sophisticated group sound that can unnerve you one minute and envelope you in ambient warmth the next. In that sense, Hydra often brings to mind the '70s ECM albums of trumpeter Kenny Wheeler and vocalist Norma Winstone, as well as the symphonic choral work of composer György Ligeti. Ultimately, Hydra is a highly engaging and unique recording that ranks as one of Monder’s best.
AllMusic Review by Matt Collar