A great album tells a story. Whether it's a tale told literally or a purely emotional ride, a narrative thread can make a record feel like vastly more than the sum of its singles.
The Moon Rang Like a Bell, the second release from L.A.-via-Florida band Hundred Waters, is a particularly sweeping saga: It starts with a hushed prayer and crescendos into an avalanche of synths and skittering drums, all the while conveying a crushingly placid feeling of melancholia. It's as if Björk and Aphex Twin got together, listened to a lot of jazz and Dirty Projectors, and decided to make a concept album.
But when it comes to a literal meaning, the band can't really tell you what its genre-defying epic is about.
"I think we all have our own interpretations," says vocalist Nicole Miglis over the phone, the shy politeness of her voice a sharp contrast to the confident, otherworldly alto she employs on record. "I mean, there are some things that I'm still trying to figure out. I've thought about sitting down and explaining something, or talking about it so that everybody's on the same page, but it never feels like it's good for the song. It kind of kills the magic."
To many, Hundred Waters itself might seem magical—one of those mysterious bands that burst forth, fully formed, from its small-town practice space almost overnight. Its homegrown, self-titled debut, a lush melding of acoustic guitars and acid jazz, was released quietly in 2012, when the four musicians were still housemates in Gainesville, Fla. The album drew a mild buzz. Somewhat miraculously, it reached perhaps the least likely of industry moguls: Sonny Moore, aka dubstep king Skrillex, who quickly signed the band to his OWSLA label. Over the next two years, Hundred Waters officially relocated to California, but the band was perpetually on the road, touring with the likes of Alt-J, the XX and Julia Holter. The four members were performing the material from their first album, but between gigs—and even backstage—they were writing.
"We were always working on new things, in the van or in the green room," says drummer Zach Tetreault. "Our process is ongoing. From the second something is finished, there's always something else."
Listening to The Moon Rang Like a Bell, it's hard to believe the record came into being across hundreds of miles. Toward the end of "Out Alee," Miglis' layered voice weaves in and out of the band's synthy haze, gradually creeping up in volume until she desperately cries, "No way out/Way out/Way out," and the track plunges into a slow, limping rock beat. It seems too intricate—and far too sonically pristine—to have come from a scrappy MIDI keyboard.
But that is indeed where much of The Moon comes from. In fact, the new album leans much more heavily on electronics than Hundred Waters' debut. Several critics have pointed to the influence of Skrillex's OWSLA crew on cuts like the ambient banger "[Animal]" and the chilled-out dubstep shuffle of "Innocent." Miglis admits to being a recent EDM convert.
"I didn't really know what it was or give it a chance before, but there are certain times where I really want to listen to that," she says. "Not always, but I think wanting to make something more fun and physical and all that stuff is in my head somewhere.â
Even so, Miglis says, the band doesn't really think too intentionally about where its songs come from. But if you want to categorize or criticize Hundred Waters—or even speculate as to what it's all about—Miglis will consider your opinion.
"There are definitely moments where you feel like [critics] misinterpreted you completely, or you wonder how you come off, that maybe it's not how you feel," Miglis says. "But maybe that is how you feel. Maybe that is what you're giving off to somebody else and you don't even realize it. What goes on in your head is sometimes such a small part of whatâs actually going on.â
SEE IT: Hundred Waters plays Mississippi Studios, 3939 N Mississippi Ave., with Pure Bathing Culture and Wishyunu, on Friday, July 25. 9 pm. $10 advance, $12 day of show. 21+.