When you’ve got a hook as tantalizingly unique as “indie folk band signs to Skrillex’s label,” there’s probably a sense of complacency that can creep into the music. Hundred Waters have that intriguing narrative, but rather than settling on their brostep brethren’s co-sign-by-proxy, the Gainesville band decided to create an album of beauty and clarity. That second word is a big one for the band; there’s no reverb to muddle what is, at heart, a very earthy record. Guitars pluck, violins shimmer and drums hammer in the background as vocalist Nicole Miglis shows off her ethereal harmonizations. It’s a thrilling ride that shows what can happen when a talented band takes a new perspective on an old genre.
Opener “Sonnet” is perhaps the most charming of songs present on Hundred Waters, starting with a slow guitar line, picked among a woozy backdrop that recalls a walk through the mists of a fall morning. Miglis’s vocal style recalls Julia Hotler’s, only more immediate; it’s not a surprise that the band recently played in support of Holter, and really, it’s not a surprise that they stole the show. What comes through both on the record and in a live setting is that the band does not need to hide behind tricks; every instrument is played at an astounding level of proficiency, including the multiple vocals. “Visitor” starts off with a drone that threatens to knock down what the band built up on the opener, but then just as quickly it cuts away to reveal a xylophonic loop, giving Miglis the perfect backdrop for her vocals.
There are shifts in genre expectations here, but the band keeps one foot firmly planted in the folk sphere. “Thistle” sounds like something Radiohead would come up with if they were to take up the fight for the liberation of the pastoral resident, while “Theia” adds some brass to the proceedings and plays off of a cowbell that disappears within the mix at the most convenient times. The ritualistic “Wonderboom” seems destined to soundtrack many a night among the stars; as a native of the same Florida as the band, I can attest to its appeal for a late-night beach excursion.
The band can even get creepy at times, such as in the unfortunately named “. . . _ _ _ . . .” and its almost-horror-movie sparseness and ghostly vocals that run back and forth between the forefront and the darkest corners of your mind. It’s the courage to try such things that sets Hundred Waters apart from scores of bands; while not inaccessibly technical, they respect the music they are making enough not to drown its inherent beauty. By relying on their talent and confidence, the fivesome takes the listener to a futuristic setting, one where ’60s British pastoral music fuses with electro in order to fill a hole in the musical landscape. Just don’t expect them to drop the bass any time soon.