There’s an important difference between albums that take their time for good reason, and albums that screw around until they bore you to death. The Moon Rang Like a Bell, the sophomore release from Gainesville, Florida’s Hundred Waters, falls distinctly into the former category. While it certainly drifts and wanders through several pretty contemplative tracks, it earns its quiet moments with some truly explosive ones.
Often dubbed a “folktronica” band, Hundred Waters have made a name for themselves by blending clean, airy vocals with a carefully-controlled mix of electronic and acoustic instrumentation (not unlike a certain other group we recently covered). Their success stems from the fact that they’ve latched onto what many listeners are thinking these days, consciously or otherwise: we want more artists who can embrace technology without drowning in it.
The Moon Rang Like a Bell is a great example of how to do just that. Lead singer Nicole Miglis’ voice remains a grounded centerpiece throughout the album, and serves as an anchor that keeps the electronic elements from feeling cold or aloof. I hear as much Marissa Nadler in their songs as I do Trust, and it makes for a pretty exceptional experience.
“Show Me Love,” the album opener, is an exclusively vocal track that leads beautifully into the eclectic instrumentals of “Murmurs.” This is followed by the likely single, “Cavity,” the intermittently jazzy “Out Alee,” and the spacey-with-a-punch “Innocent.” This trifecta demonstrates an impressive ability to explore diverse sounds without straying too far from an established theme.
My only real complaint with The Moon Rang Like a Bell is that it might be a little too front-loaded with energy. While the latter half of the album exhibits the same complexity and virtuosic execution we’ve come to expect from the group, it feels like a few of the beat-laden tracks from the beginning could have been interspersed later to provide some balance.
That said, I very well could be missing the point here. When listening through the record, you get the impression of a slow build to euphoric exuberance followed by a bit of a burn-out. A couple of the songs that follow make their best attempt to recapture that early energy, but they’re quickly brought back down to a fairly pensive, melancholy place.
“[Animal],” for example, consists of a barrage of frantic percussion and vocal modulation that feels like someone cobbling together their best effort at feigned optimism. When the frenzied, Hot Chip-esque synths come in two-thirds of the way through, they seem almost parodic. It’s a last, desperate grasp at remembered happiness.
After that, the record comes to terms with its new tone, embracing a more subdued atmosphere in “Seven White Horses,” “Xtalk,” and the ethereal closer, “No Sound.” While this asymmetry was a little disappointing on the first few listens, I’ve come to appreciate the fact that the evolving instrumental themes are more impactful than any user-friendly sense of consistency could be.
And, as usual, I worry that my attempt to build a narrative around this album may have blinded me to the fact that it really is a thoroughly consistent work. The salient point, though, is that The Moon Rang Like a Bell is a phenomenally enjoyable record that showcases Hundred Waters’ songwriting chops just as effectively, if not more so, than their debut. I highly recommend that you do your best to forget everything I just said, grab a copy, and see what you take away from it.