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Jun 16, 2014

Hundred Waters


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Hundred Waters

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The Moon Rang Like A Bell
(OWSLA)

I was scared of Hundred Waters’ new record. The Gainesville, FL (self-proclaimed) “folktronic” band signed with Skrillex’s label OWSLA, and I figured that all of the experimental edge that made their self-titled debut so fantastic would probably be replaced by crummy synths and wobbly LFOs. But guess what? That didn’t happen. 

The Moon Rang Like A Bell is a beautiful, cohesive, emotive, and eclectic (note: key talking point) record—it is in an entirely different league than their debut record in the best possible way. This is an album that I have cried while I listened to (yeah my girlfriend dumped me, so what? You wanna fight about it?); this is an album that I have played on the beach; this is an album that I played for my mother (she thinks Mac Demarco is cuter); this record is an ever-changing amalgam of noise/vocals/lyricism that never errs on the side of anything, in fact, it doesn’t err at all.

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Check out the witch-house drums on “Murmurs”—which clash with a dead grand piano and Nicole Miglis’ apathetic soprano: “Yesterday was your birthday/ Happy birthday”. She’s late to the party and guess what? She doesn’t care. Listen to the Burial-esque clickity-clack of “Cavity”—a song that peaks, but avoids that sweaty molly-guy “DUDE THIS IS MY FAVORITE PART” over-peak, all while Miglis’ vocals ride their own loops and build like a tsunami (seriously, aside from James Blake, no one uses vocal loops this well). Hundred Waters borrow, pillage, appropriate, and pay homage, while constantly remaining themselves. Check out the Weeknd-esque banger “Innocent”, one of the album’s darkest tracks, where the chorus finds Ms. Miglis in falsetto singing: “Legs are no good/They’re no good/When they’re paralyzed”— ironic, because The Moon is a clinic in sonic movement. 

Some people (see: Mark Richardson’s review) choose to ignore the ever-present lyrical brilliance, focusing instead on the aesthetic value of Miglis’ voice as an ever-changing instrument. But that doesn’t do justice to the words on the inside of the sleeve. There’s a reason that all the lyrics are written down for the purchaser (WHOA THAT’S YOU) to read. And read them you should. “Broken Blue” is lyrically the best track I’ve heard this year—you may cry. Because Miglis is not happy—unrequited love is no fun. And that is, at least for me, and maybe that has to do with the break-up I mentioned earlier, what this record is about.

 

The Moon Rang Like A Bell is so cohesive that it’s hard to say which track is the “best”—this is the reason why when compared to their first record, which, likewise climbed through Death Valleys and McKinney peaks but had obvious standouts like “Boreal” and “Thistle,” it is such a shift forward. The Moon refuses to stay put, while simultaneously refusing to be categorized/compared any single genre/artist—incomparable to any single other band (though that’s exactly what my job consists of). In the mood for upbeat house music with the beautiful (not that it’s important, she could look like Chris Lilley and I would not care) Nicole Miglis revising Bitte Orca?—look no further than “Out Alee”. In the mood for Skrillex? Check out “[Animal]”, a track where I’m pretty sure Skrill-boi just showed up in the studio with his Roland Juno like, “Whoa, y’all need an arpeggiated synth line!” In the mood for the metaphoric and introspective? Look no further than “Down From the Rafters”—one of the only tracks on the record that actually finds the band living up to the “folk” half of their (again, self-proclaimed, I’m not making this up) “folktronic” genre, but even this song refuses to stay put: it breaks into bells and toy piano and heavily effected vocals: “Drown it in laughter/ Take a little pill, maybe think of it after/ Ooooh, think about it after/ Delude, dementia, make me feel like I never met ya.” And to me, that’s what this album it supposed to be: an escape from the terrible reality of being in love. 

 

At this point I should probably talk about “X-Talk,” a song I will probably play on the radio everyday if the folks who are publishing this ever let me on the radio. It is sonically the truest-to-form (if their form is even quantifiable) Hundred Waters song on the album. It combines all the elements that make The Moon so great: the housey drum-kit, the perfectly EQ-ed vocal loops, the pianos—one shiny and electric, the other almost completely dead, the peaks and valleys, and finally the ever-prevalent lyricism that makes you fall in love with Nicole Miglis: “I don’t know who you want me to be/ But tomorrow I’m leaving/ I won’t do it kneeling.”

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So far as I can tell, The Moon Rang Like A Bell is an extremely underrated record (Metacritic is 79), which is something that I can’t understand. Every review I’ve read ignores the lyrical aspect entirely, assuming that Miglis’ voice is just an instrument—which is a huge mistake because the words that come out of it are what make this record so awesome. Sonically it’s beautiful—peaking at just the right times, dying at just the right times—but lyrically it’s still a folk record, one comparable with Angel Olsen’s fantastic Burn Your Fire For No Witness. As I said before there is no “best” song. This record is a twelve-course meal. I suggest a sauvignon-blanc pairing for the first four tracks, a merlot for the middle, and a strong/uber-strong port for the end, all of which serve to only complement one incredible album.

Sam Howard