A testament to the humanity that synthetic instruments can acquire, and a collection of truly sparkling intimacy.
Hundred Waters – The Moon Rang Like a Bell
As though Beyonce’s completely out-of-nowhere release of her self-titled album in late 2013 wasn’t untraditional enough, here’s something to up the ante: Hundred Waters celebrated their sophomore release, The Moon Rang Like a Bell, with a free three-day festival in an Arizona desert named Arcosanti. The festival, named after the desert hosting it, was free as long as guests RSVP’d and handled their own transportation there and back. It gets better: daily activities included swimming, hiking, and bronze-bell casting. At night, acts including How to Dress Well, Majical Cloudz, and, of course, Hundred Waters performed sets.
A logical follow-up question might be: where did the money for this come from? The answer is simple enough, but also pretty surprising: Hundred Waters are signed to Skrillex’s label OWSLA. With a reported income of around $15 million, Skrillex probably had no trouble financing Arcosanti; what’s more interesting is his pouring money into a band with a sound so opposite his own. While Skrillex is known as a leading name in the last several years’ upsurge of intensely aggressive laptop music oddly and unfittingly dubbed “electronic dance music”, Hundred Waters’ style is far more restrained and inherently gorgeous. The Moon Rang Like the Bell is a testament to the humanity that synthetic instruments can acquire, and a collection of truly sparkling intimacy.
“Show Me Love”, as crooned on Moon‘s brief introductory track, isn’t a very difficult command to obey given the album’s lovely arrangements and touching melodies. Nicole Miglis, Hundred Waters’ vocalist, sings in a way that’s equally compatible with trip-hop balladry, eerie piano reflections, and minimal echo chambers, and never fails to affect. The breathiness and fragility of her pondering on the sensual, flowing “Innocent” is just as potent as the more restricted tone she takes on the shuffling, elliptical “Seven White Horses.” More often than not, Miglis occupies both of these extremes in one track, as perfectly showcased on buoyant tunes like “XTalk” and “Out Alee.”
The latter of these tunes may be Moon‘s strongest example of why, in addition to Miglis’ contribution, the work of fellow bandmates Paul Giese, Zach Tetreault, and Trayer Tryon is vital to Hundred Waters’ sound. “Out Alee” phases through alternating bars of standard and 3/4 time, which gives it a tension that Miglis’ voice probably couldn’t convey on its own despite its breadth. A few sudden sections of half-time feel add to this delicate mood, a move that’s both technically impressive and heartwrenching at a gut level. Second single “Cavity” might even be a better instance of how formidably the music strikes: a percussive stutter yields to waves and walls of synths that overwhelm without being larger than life.
Actually, that right there is a precise description of The Moon Rang Like a Bell. Emotionally overwhelming but never sonically imposing, it deftly plays with pathos using as little sound as possible. Check first single “Down from the Rafters” as a demonstration of this art: no more than some wispy keys, a muffled drumbeat, some atmospheric swirling, and Miglis’ brutally gentle vocals form this song, yet it’s one of Moon‘s most direct and haunting encounters. “Murmurs” strikes in a similar way, its repeated (and, for a while, unfinished) coos of “I wish you” bearing little weight despite so effectively conveying emotion. “Yesterday was your birthday/happy birthday” about halfway through this song is one of the most awkward yet endearing lyrics to ever be heard in music this serious, and the inclusion of this line is another interesting and different way in which Hundred Waters operate.
Yet elsewhere on The Moon Rang Like a Bell, the lyrics aren’t quite so memorable. The album’s strength isn’t its actual words, despite how obviously sincere and important Miglis makes them, but rather in their delivery. “You make these feelings go away” goes the chorus to “Cavity”, a sentiment that’s undoubtedly raw and wholehearted, but in no way anything unfamiliar. Rather, the subtle impact of how Miglis sings them is what makes them truly sting. It’s a minor flaw that only emerges upon repeated listening, which Moon fully lends itself to. In particular, “[Animal]” crawls under the skin and into the nerves responsible for pressing the “Repeat One” button, as it’s the album’s most surprising track. The rhythm of its introduction suggests something more bracing and immediate than the rest of the album, a prophecy that unfolds enthrallingly over the song’s length. Heavily processed vocal clips loop and synthetic drums expand as “[Animal]” approaches its last eighty seconds, thereafter exploding into the most discrete dancefloor beat to emerge in quite some time.
Probably nobody expected Hundred Waters to release a song with deep house influences; fewer might expect it to be a contender for Moon‘s best track. Then again, Hundred Waters are signed to OWSLA, of all labels, so maybe there are things about them not yet well-known to listeners. There’s definitely a small sense of mystery contained in the simultaneous eeriness and beauty of this album, but its intimacy ensures that anyone who hears it will feel connected to this band. Although they may not be very loud, their songs absolutely scream.