Album Review: Hundred Waters - Communicating
Hundred Waters have lost another member since their last album, 2014’s The Moon Rang Like A Bell, just as they did after their debut, which means the once-quintet is now a trio. But, as many have stated before, three is a magic number, a tripod stands stronger than a four-pronged platform, and Hundred Waters have proven that on album number three, Communicating.
For most, Hundred Waters will be seen as Nicole Miglis’ band; her voice and emotions are the fulcrum of their sound, and after a star-making turn on this year’s Bonobo album, that is probably what will stand out to newcomers to the band on initial listens. While this might be diminutive, it is also the best access-point to Communicating. For much of the writing and recording, Miglis put herself in isolation to get in touch with the currents and tides of her emotions. Even when asked by Stereogum about what she does to wind down, she offered that she likes to “just talk about emotions with people.” This constant self-examination is what goes into her lyrics, and gives Hundred Waters’ music a compelling core.
On The Moon Rang Like A Bell she started out by asking “show me love,” but this time we find her on the cusp of losing that thing she most cherishes: “I only wanted haven in your harbour/ I only wanted part of you,” begins ‘Particle’, a song that places Miglis as a tiny entity amidst the enormity of the world and the love within it. This sets the tone for the emotional thrust of the album; questions of insecurity, desire and self-worth abound – and the only way to fully have a grip on those values is to communicate with those closest to you.
This is where Hundred Waters’ strengths lie, in the chemistry between Miglis and her two bandmates Trayon Tryer, and Zach Tetreault. Not only are they in a band together, but Miglis and Tryer are in a relationship, and all three live together communally in Los Angeles. It’s this closeness that allows Miglis to open up so fully, in a way that she might not even be able to on her own. From there, the creative process is an alchemical, black box type deal where nobody can really say just how the songs come into fruition, but gradually they do – and just like the unpredictable and often uncontrollable way that spurts of fervour or remorse can surge through your nervous system, such is the way that Hundred Waters’ music courses and recedes to accentuate the humanity at its core.
Together the trio has an inherent understanding of what’s necessary to eke out the most from any piano demo that Miglis might bring. This is best exemplified on the Communicating’s central tentpole ‘At Home and In My Head’, where they provided a burbling, fast-paced synth and drum pattern, underscored by a techno-light bass line. Lyrically, ‘At Home and In My Head’ is one of the most personal and vulnerable songs on the album, but with this musical hyperactivity going on all around we feel as if we are inside Miglis’ consciousness; the whole world is rushing around her in a blur and all she can think about is the uncomfortable tension between her and her lover. Then, when it comes to the begging chorus “come home to me,” they drop out completely, isolating Miglis’ loneliness in a way that is devastating every single time.
In fact, ‘At Home and In My Head’ shows off the best of both worlds of Communicating. While many of the lyrics deal with desperation and desire for connection, musically the album ranges from minimal and quiet to louder and brighter than anything they’ve done previously. This presents the full spectrum of feelings without drawing clear borders between happy and sad, and allows an honest human indecision to shine through. Through their highly freeform but affectionate collaboration, the trio consistently accentuates the potency of the passion in the songs. On ‘Parade’ they know to hold back, adding only some atmospheric imbuement to surround Miglis and her piano, which allows the wistful, lonely street-walking story to unfold like a breezy daydream. ‘Fingers’ is an intimate examination of the hazards of growing too close to someone, and here the band shows off their idiosyncratic writing skills by surrounding our heroin with textures and tones that float about like fireflies, bringing some light but also casting flickering shadows.
Even if they many of the songs are rooted in depressive or lonely states, Hundred Waters know when to treat it like a celebration of the mere fact of being alive. ‘Wave To Anchor’ is about dissatisfaction and questioning oneself, but musically it is an unabashedly housey song that brings them closer to anything else on their label (Skrillex’s OWSLA) than they’ve done before. ‘Blanket Me’ begins as one of the purest and barest pleas for companionship you could hear, but as the song steadily builds into a resounding conclusion it goes from something meek to something empowering.
Communicating ends with ‘Better’, which sums up the undercurrent of the album in most simple terms: “did I treat you right?” It’s a question we have all asked ourselves about anyone we’ve hurt, and one that there is never a simple answer to. Throughout the album it seems Hundred Waters are trying to gain some clarity on that question, and while it might not crystallise in any way, their exploration has brought about an album’s worth of beautiful insights into how the human psyche works around this issue. In the end it seems that the only real way to work towards the bottom of these tumultuous feelings is by doing exactly what the album suggests in its words, its musical chemistry and its title: Communicating.
This article was originally published on The 405 - 15th September 2017.