Taking Refuge in Hundred Waters

hundred waters

Falling in love with new music is a pretty formulaic process for me: it starts off as a certain kind of anticipation that, when met, tells me that this is an album I’ll be listening to for a long, long time. Hundred Waters’ The Moon Rang Like a Bell immediately made me feel that same kind of 9-year-old-on-Christmas-morning excitement in anticipation for its inevitable catharsis, and it did not disappoint.

I can’t strictly associate Hundred Waters with any one genre. There is a drummer, a pianist/singer, a bassist, and a guitarist, but each member is also responsible for a series of other instrumentals such as electronics, flute, trumpet, and drum-machines. On paper, the range of musical sampling would seem to be conflicting, but their coexistence is surprisingly harmonious. There is a familiarity throughout The Moon Rang Like a Bell, a distant sense of unity that lays the groundwork for their prominent computer-generated sound.

I saw Hundred Waters perform at the Great American Music Hall earlier this quarter. Moses Sumney, an LA-based singer/songwriter, opened the show, and his set was about as long as the main act’s. He started off with the few tracks I had already heard, including a number of delicate and stripped down guitar-based ballads off of his 2014 EP Mid-City Island such as “Plastic” and “San Fran”–which were great, but his limited releases alone don’t do his versatility justice. You have to see him perform live.

Aside from his voice, the guitar was his only instrument. Yet with those two things alone, he somehow managed to create some of the most uniquely layered maximalism I’ve ever heard. He beat-boxed, clapped, sang, and looped his way to four simultaneously buoyant and thizz-face-inducing tracks, using only a triad of mics and a looper pedal. His unassuming voice adopted a subtly badass air of confidence as he sang over a expansive assortment of instrument-less sounds, diverging from the soft chord progressions he began his set with. After repeatedly flooring the audience with each song, it was somehow he who was overwhelmed, almost starstruck, at having the opportunity to perform in front of us, a small group of 18-30 year olds who paid 20 bucks to see Hundred Waters perform in a tiny venue on Valentine’s Day. His humility was astounding, and absolutely uncalled for. When an opener makes you forget who you came to see, he’s really something special–and when that same opener subsequently fangirls over the main act while standing with the rest of the audience, you just know he’s one of the best dudes around. Look out for Moses Sumney.

After what Moses had just finished doing to me, it was nice to get back to familiar ground. The Moon Rang Like a Bell has made its way as a regular on my master playlist, and, with both highly produced and stripped down tracks making an appearance on the LP, I’ve been getting used to its subtly versatile emotional punch. On this album, Hundred Waters seems to have upgraded their musical arsenal from their self-titled debut LP, largely ditching an acoustic and raw feel in favor of more refined and innovative synth-based textures.

At the show, Hundred Waters mostly performed songs from The Moon Rang Like a Bell. The comprehensive concert began with the energizing “Out Alee” and “Innocent”, and climaxed at “Murmurs”. “Innocent” and “Murmurs”, both intricately layered, synth and computer-drum-filled tracks. The first features an addictive tidal wave of a drop at each chorus, after which lead vocalist Nicole Miglis teases us with her evasive, beautiful singing: a filtered vocal loop serves as an unjustly taunting mini-pre-climax before the chorus makes yet another commanding entrance and slaps the stank right back onto our faces. “Murmurs” is of similar compositional complexity, but sets quite a different mood — I am confident this is what Moses was talking about when he said The Moon Rang Like a Bell is an album he’s “cried to a thousand times.” Nicole’s slowly looping “I wish you” introduction is an emotional gut-punch right off the bat, and it seamlessly eases into the crux of the song, conveying so much emotion with so few words. The track climaxes at the eclectic chorus, all at once melancholic, vulnerable, and optimistic, as band producers Trayer Tryon (yup) and Paul Giese calmly go ballistic on their midi pads, producing heavy and atmospheric electronic drums and vocal samples that complement the rawer instrumentation quite nicely.

Nicole’s voice is just as affecting live as it is on the LP, which she beautifully flexed in her performance of “Show Me Love” (featured on a Coca-Cola Super Bowl ad); it’s wintery, but there’s a warmth to her fuzzy timbre, as is characteristic of all of Hundred Waters’ music. Between songs, she’s shy, only saying a few words every few songs with a cute, innocent smile. She keeps these intermissions short and re-immerses herself in her music as soon as possible, closing with the riveting “Animal”. Nicole hypnotizes us into an anticipatory lull, until the fluttering synths and the accompanying drums have her marching in place and bobbing her head, with the entire venue vibing with her. She takes refuge in her songs, and man, is it a comfortable place to be.

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