So Stereogum has been running this segment for the past few years that’s essentially this same exact format – 10 songs from a specific artist, ranked. That’s cool or whatever, but it’s not by me. These 10 songs are ranked by me. These are MY favorites. So I get to write about them on my own time. That’s pretty exciting, right? So here’s the first installment in honor of their recently released record: Hundred Waters.
If anyone knows me personally or follows this blog at all, you know that Hundred Waters is very likely my favorite band of this decade. It all started with receiving their self-titled debut at my college radio station in 2012 and since then I haven’t looked back. Their seamless blend of organic and synthetic sounds have won me over again and again, and even though that balance of sound has dilated in focus a bit across their three albums, they’ve retained their core identity throughout.
Their debut is what brought upon the unshakable “folktronica” tag on the blog circuit, with its flourishes of flute, chimes, guitar, live percussion, strings and piano that are put through a mesh of petite, bubbling electronics. The album is a vibrant world to explore in. The songs aren’t out to capture you, but more for introducing you to a potential universe of wonders, full of small details that are rewarded upon subsequent listens. It’s a charming, addictive and promising debut: one that stuck out to me from 2012 onward.
Two years later, 2014 brought me my current favorite album of the trio and my overall favorite record of that year, the striking The Moon Rang Like A Bell. Stripping away some of the more “folky” portions of their sound and opting for a more direct, confrontational approach to their songwriting. The album is just as, or maybe even more immersive than their debut. The majority of songs, especially in the first half, grab the listener and takes them for a ride with a deep sonic palette with a larger emphasis on electronics dizzying effects and memorable hooks.
Upon my first few listens I was convinced that the debut was the superior record, but it didn’t take long until I was truly converted. The band improved on pretty much everything from the debut. The songs were incredibly engaging and featured a large expanse of textures and tempos the band could strongly tap into. Since then, I’ve been preaching this band’s gospel to everyone I know, with this album being the main focal point.
Three years of campaigning, one remix album, a remix with Skrillex, Chance the Rapper, Moses Sumney and more, and a gorgeous standalone single later – it’s 2017 and Hundred Waters (aka Hundo, casually, to me), have released two new projects: first came Currency, an EP, and then Communicating, a full-length. On Currency, a collection of extra songs from the Communicating recording sessions, their sound is bigger than ever: deeper bass, louder electronics, sharper stabs, and carries overall heightened sense of urgency over five songs that wasn’t present in their discography before. Electronics clearly rule the style here, featuring a great variety of new synth tones for the band.
Things start to slow down a bit more on Communicating. Despite sharing a song with Currency, the division of songs on these two projects is well done. Here, there’s more of a focus on piano and voice, with most songs featuring purely Nicole Miglis’ voice and her piano playing, with the rest of the instrumentals coming in to amplify the moods already laid down. Most of the songs on this record are some of Hundo’s simplest. They also take some of their biggest risks here as well. It bridges the two types of worlds that were created on the previous two records: one that is ripe, waiting for you to explore, and one that dunks your head right into the action.
Certain songs on Communicating put you into a room with the action occurring all around you, swirling and powerful: singeing flesh, twirling hair, a smoothing salve, and bursts of blinding light all at once. But there are also moments where it plays out like a movie, the message purely projected on a screen for you to observe. The disconnect between these two worlds between songs is a bit jarring at times, taking the highs from one ecstatic extreme on one song out of the equation on the next, snuffing out a chance for a nice flow on the record. However, slower songs going into more upbeat ones work magnificently, adding more evidence that the band is clutch at the build-up.
Most importantly, however – across these three records and EP, the overall sound is not the only thing that’s developed. Perhaps what’s grown most of all are the lead vocals of Nicole Miglis, who has been on a rocket-like trajectory in terms of skill and range over the band’s lifespan. On the debut it was clear she had a special touch, with a wispy, pliable voice that could flow up and over the gusts of the instrumental. This is evident on her early solo material as well, which found her nestled & singing loosely and with grace among peaceful handclaps, acoustic guitar, flutes and jovial piano.
She picked up the intensity on Bell, adding some bulk to her performances that gave her a more demanding presence among the sonic landscape. Her voice was still like a dancer that skated across undulating instrumentals, now created solely by members Trayer Tryon and Zach Tetreault, but with a bit more muscle and a few more tricks up the sleeve. At this point it wasn’t just pleasant to hear her sing, but it was exciting. How would she turn on the next song? The replay-ability factor was high. She also started to get UP there on songs like “Seven White Horses,” a shade of what came on Currency and Communicating.
On the most recent albums, she’s continued bringing that heat, that muscle, that flexibility and versatility, but now she also routinely hits high notes with a newfound confidence. Her voice darts and flexes around rushing synths and pulsing percussion with ease, again making for a highly entertaining and awesome listen. Even at slower paces she carries a hushed, but commanding tone. She is leading the pack. Full steam ahead. No looking back. Can’t wait to see where she and the rest of the band go from here.
Onto the 10 songs, in the “Warm Visions” style.
- “Murmurs” [The Moon Rang Like A Bell]
A sentient character locked in a painting falls in love with the people it watches in the outside world.
- “Cavity” [The Moon Rang Like A Bell]
All gravity on Earth slowly starts to evaporate and you clamor home to reconnect with loved ones before getting sucked into space.
- “Wave To Anchor” [Communicating]
A majestic roller coaster ride unwittingly sparks a cosmic revelation in your own mind, enhancing the ride to near-hallucinogenic heights.
- “Currency” [Currency]
The spirit of the waterfall awakens at night and holds a dance recital under the full moon for the other forest spirits.
- “Out Alee” [The Moon Rang Like A Bell]
A crystalline piano rests inside a small, woodland cathedral built by inch-tall guardians.
- “Visitor” [Hundred Waters]
A trail of fireflies lead a young hero down to their elder’s secret basement, which is filled with marvelous wonders beyond human comprehension.
- “Particle” [Currency / Communicating]
Two celestial bodies intercept flashing distress signals from one another.
- “Gather” [Hundred Waters]
Falling to Earth like a feather, surrounded by jellyfish, paper lanterns, dandelions, and grasshoppers.
- “Thistle” [Hundred Waters]
A mad scientist shuffles about town and the surrounding areas gathering ingredients to build their newest, nature-defying creation.
- “Forgive Me For Giving Up” [single]
An honest smile during a tearful goodbye.
- “Boreal” [Hundred Waters]
The start of an adventurous, three-song suite that has a very satisfying build-up.
- “Innocent” [The Moon Rang Like A Bell]
This song carries an enigmatic, shadowy quality that I can’t quite put my finger on.
- “Me & Anodyne” [Hundred Waters]
Another really fun song on the debut. Nimble is the first word that comes to mind.
- “Re:” [Communicating]
One of the most deliriously beautiful songs I’ve ever heard. Wish it was longer!
- “Sonnet” [Hundred Waters]
What a killer introduction. Starts the record off like a mysterious story book.
- “Xtalk” [The Moon Rang Like A Bell]
Love the dips and dives Miglis’ voice takes on this song.
Well now if you don’t know that they’re my favorite band of the decade, now you know, rude boy. I think this has exorcised all of my current feelings on Hundred Waters now. This also kind of turned into a A Long Bow situation due to all the gushing. If I get any updates on any more Hundo feelings, you know where to check on them ;).