The methods of Hundred Waters’ rise to underground fame seem inextricably tied to their invitation to Skrillex’s Full Flex Express Canadian Train Tour, as it’s only known that Sonny Moore came across the quartet’s self-titled debut and enjoyed it. Hundred Waters, an exploration into electronic and folk-inspired sounds, seemed completely awry in comparison to some of the more monstrously electronic and dance-oriented acts of Skrillex’s tour, including Grimes, Diplo, and Pretty Lights.
After releasing that debut and signing to Skrillex’s OWSLA label, Hundred Waters toured with the likes of Alt-J, The xx, Julia Holter, and Braids before composing their sophomore record, The Moon Rang Like a Bell. Opening track “Show Me Love” is immediately stripped of any expected electronic heaviness, with vocalist Nicole Miglis aching three iterations of the title, the third more potent and aggressive than the others. Following her outcry is second track “Murmurs”, featuring a relatively sad “Yesterday was your birthday/ Happy birthday,” full of a self-aware forgetfulness. As these emotional characters change form through some of the album’s tracks, Hundred Waters establishes an underpinning of ephemerality, a world where a temporary atmosphere exists simultaneously with feeling.
On electronics, guitars, and drums, Paul Giese, Zach Tetreault, and Trayer Tryon maintain this aestheticized atmosphere throughout the record, one redolent of the understanding of life’s transience, as experienced when immersed momentarily in a vast body of water. The music video for lead single “Cavity” captures a similar elegance; a strip of Miglis’s face sings, “You will make these feelings go away,” while the video transitions between flickering scenes of nighttime nature, lights, and moving stars.
With stress on experimentation and an often unintelligible Miglis (“Out Alee”, “Innocent”), the album’s first half features tracks reminiscent of the sound the band established with Hundred Waters. There are also two pure ambient tracks (one of them suitably titled “Chambers (Passing Train)”) that transition into the album’s more groundbreaking latter half.
Despite a similar apparent slowness, the four tracks that follow “Chambers” breathe with a fluidity that transcends any need for continuity in tempo. On “Down from the Rafters”, Miglis sighs, “Take a little pill, drown it out in laughter/ Take a little pill, maybe think about it after,” atop a set of nostalgic strings and ethereal, echoing chimes. The slow unity of the track is contrasted by the subsequent uptempo speed of “[Animal]”, which is followed by “Seven White Horses”, whose energy builds in great power as it culminates in an intense clash of drums and Miglis’s cries.
The series of four tracks concludes with “Xtalk”, appropriately another dance track, which begs, “Do you have time/ To lay around and pick out all the folly in me?” As the record comes to an end with the darkly ambient “No Sound”, a connection can be made to the album cover, a drawing interpreted from the inside of an airplane. Out of the windows is a swirling redness and a sad or crying moon, whose nighttime appearance signals the dark blue and purple transience The Moon Rang Like a Bell has successfully established through its seamless aesthetic sensitivity.
Essential Tracks: “Down from the Rafters”, “Seven White Horses”, and “Xtalk”
Editor’s Note: Review edited on 5/27/14 to delete the cancellation of Full Flex.