I woke up to my phone blaring, feeling groggy as hell and confused. I don’t have to work for hours; why is my alarm going off? It was actually a reminder- Communicating, Hundred Waters’ new LP, finally arrived.
I’ve committed myself to a lazy afternoon in bed, so I plug in my headphones and press play. I make it through four songs. I’m impressed, but it’s not right. This is the kind of record you need to be alone with – like totally alone, away from pesky town noise, out of reach of even cellular service, and I knew just the place.
As enthusiasts, we all have our respective altars.
Some swear by the live performance; its energy and singularity are undeniable. Some connect through personal shrines – formidable home stereos or studio quality headphones. My sonic worship takes place in my car. When I need to clear my thoughts, nothing provides more catharsis than rough gravel beneath me, my favorite tunes over stock speakers; surveying the changing landscape to the tune of my choice soundscape.
A “good song” I’ve heard once or twice becomes an EPIC when it’s blaring from my Toyota- when I hear something GREAT, or in anticipation of a release, I get a craving for the road, restless feet yearning for gas pedal.
I head north on the Gunflint Trail, a part of the country you most likely have never heard of if you aren’t a Minnesota native.
There’s nothing in front of but 60 miles of narrow winding road. The road ends in a precipice overlooking a swath of Ontario Wilderness accessible only by canoe.
The seasons are drastic here. Mid-September rolls around, and everyone is winterizing their homes. Many trees, the most resilient, are still green in all of their glory. Some have lost all but their sturdiest leaves, crimson red. Smoke from distant wildfires drape like gauze in the sky. There is no creeping autumn in Northern Minnesota.
There is a sudden, drastic shift in energy; it’s fitting for the soundtrack, in which Hundred Waters shows their truest of colors, much like the yellowing poplars.
The Gainesville, Florida trio’s second LP, The Moon Rang Like A Bell, was powerful in its own subdued, eerie way. Communicating, recorded in a church in Detroit, is a completely different beast, completely lush with live orchestral quality. It’s cinematic, disjointed, and it’s all over the place. But calculatedly so.
You never quite know when a song is over. Listening through, time and time again, I’m left breathless and in awe at what I believe to be the ending of a perfect song, only to be surprised. There is still so much more to be said (there always is) it’s a recurring theme of Communicating.
Nicole Miglis’s voice emanates from a tiny frame, but it could very well be coming from the sky, or from the trees. I have long been a fan of Nicole’s precise lyricism and whisper-like sharp vocals. Listening to this record I am realizing something equally impressive. Her vocals are an instrument in their own right, with simple mantras in repetition, twisting and turning, breezing in and out of recognition, melting their way into the background and reemerging with unmatched command.
In the past, I’ve always struggled to describe Hundred Waters’ music in terms of genre.
I’ve seen them described as “electronic” or as “art pop”, a descriptor that truly only signifies a writer’s defeat in deciphering sound. If it was difficult then to assign a sound to the trio, it’s impossible now. Communicating is truly expansive, an explosion on audio canvas – bright synths, church echoes, jazz piano, and indecipherable, alien noises.
At times, I almost feel like I’m trespassing as I listen to Communicating. The album is avalable on all platforms (and I’m driving on a public highway). But it’s so raw and emotive, so personal and heartfelt, that I can’t help but feel voyeuristic as I register my surroundings, gazing at trees blurring past me as if the sound is coming from the them.
Nearing the end of the Gunflint Trail, there’s a vast swath of land, ravaged by a great wildfire decades ago. The green boreal forest suddenly becomes a sort of alien wasteland. Miles and miles of stark, blackened trees, some gnarled and broken, others marred, but standing tall against the hazy autumn sky.
It might sound like an ugly place, but it’s one of my favorite places in the world- and it’s the best place to be when “At Home and In My Head”, Communicating’s pinnacle track, comes through the speakers. I feel sucker punched, completely devoid of breath as it unfolds, highlighting the shocking power of vulnerability with manic piano arpeggios and desperate, uneasy yearning.
The thing about heartbreak, and the thing about wildfires, is that destruction gives way to birth.
It’s all about contrast. The hurricane of heartbreak gives contrast to the warmth of hope. From the ashes of mangled, barren pine grows resilient blueberries and wildflowers- there are, in fact, a handful of species of plant whose seeds require fire to grow.
This contrast is rife in Communicating, a body of work as breathtaking and intricate as it is dark. It’s this honesty, this contrast, this willingness to bare all, that defines Hundred Waters, a trio that occupies a genre of their own.