While Hundred Waters have always tended to operate within the confines of moody digital introspection and elegant downtempo folk with their music, Communicating – their third and latest long player and their first for Skrillex’s label OWSLA – finds the Florida band taking forays out of their tried-and-tested comfort zone in a brave bid to push boundaries and reinvent their sound, with interesting results.
By significantly increasing the overall beats per minute of their music on a number of tracks and adding new elements like pop, soul, downtempo and dream pop to their sonic stew, the band have succeeded in creating a varied collection that balances out the intensity of its crestfallen lyrics with an even mix of understated ballads and shiny pop constructions, all underscored by a lush tapestry of analog and digital sounds.
Opening track and lead single Particle gets the album off to a very promising start. It’s a sprightly, electro pop-meets-indie-meets-EDM number that gleams and grooves appropriately like the radio friendly offering that it’s trying so hard to be; albeit one with quiet whispered vocals and personal lyrics that speak of a yearning to reconcile with a partner who’s “drifting farther and farther away”. Accessible pop with a healthy sprinkling of the dark stuff, basically.
Wave To Anchor is lined up next and is brightly announced by a euphoric piano opening riff straight out of a classic Italian house track. Like Particle before it, Wave To Anchor is another valiant attempt at crafting something uplifting and poppy sounding to temper the lyrical storm clouds. The song’s sonic exuberance and inherent catchiness proves hard to resist.
After the album’s pacy, opening electropop double salvo – uptempo by Hundred Waters standards anyway – Communicating ventures into more familiar territory with the muted piano folk melancholia of Prison Guard, one of the album’s more beautiful sounding tracks, and Parade, a soulful piano ballad that finds vocalist Nicole Miglis repeating the sad refrain “where do I go” in world-weary fashion.
The tempo then picks up again a little with At Home And In My Head, an experimental sounding track that puts a new electro spin on the band’s standard ballad fare while Firelight is a dreamy soul waltz dressed up in electronic flourishes and boasting the kind of monster synth hook that M83 or latter day Mew would be proud to have composed. The pocket-sized operetta Re: arrives and departs all in under two minutes, closing the first half of the album with a flurry of choral samples and auto tuned vocal weirdness.
The second half of Communicating comes on strong (in a good way), going for gold with its emphasis on radio-friendly material. Three of the album’s most powerful tracks – Fingers, title track Communicating and Blanket Me – are grouped together for maximum effect and are great examples of the band locating that perfect emotional sweet spot between moody melancholia and elegant synthesised euphoria and mining it for all is worth.
On these standout tracks, Miglis really comes into her own, imbuing the songs with a sense of calm introspection and laying bare her heart in her quiet, confessional style. When she sings lines like “…a boat in your harbour, gone under, capsised and sinking,” on the brooding Blanket Me, you do really believe her and feel her pain.
Better, the longest song on the album clocking in at over six minutes, rounds things off in anthemic fashion. Here, after all the soul-bearing that has gone before, Miglis strives to end proceedings on an optimistic note, imploring her former partner to move on: “don’t look behind, one day you’ll find, it’s better, all better…”.
The only real criticism is the middle section of Communicating does lag with one too many similar-sounding slow numbers stacked together. But given the quality of numerous tracks on show, one is left with the overall impression of an satisfying collection that invariably rewards if you invest the required time and effort to let the songs really sink in and take hold.