THERE ARE TIMES when you're ready to love a new record.
I was on the beach. Campfires glowing, dots in the distance. Beneath my headphones I could hear the waves crash. The night sky was stunning, clear for the first time in a week, an effervescent midnight blue. I settled in with a joint and a cocktail in a paper cup. I flicked my lighter and pressed play.
There are times when that new record slips through your fingers.
I'd heard Hundred Waters before and enjoyed 'em. After stumbling onto "Cavity," the Gainesville, Florida, five-piece's black-glass menagerie single from earlier this year, I grabbed their promotional multimedia EP, released via BitTorrent. (For what it's worth, I don't much care for music videos.) Over the preceding weeks I'd popped Hundred Waters on while milling around the house and occasionally while hosting, as part of a background mix. In the periphery, it worked.
But when I submerged myself on the beach that night, diving fully into the group's latest full-length, The Moon Rang Like a Bell, I came back empty handed. Maybe I was expecting too much. That's what happens, I guess, when you're compared to Björk.
No one should be compared to such a towering, idiosyncratic visionary such as Björk, just as no one should be held up against Jimi Hendrix, Van Morrison, or any other virtuosic possessor of not only a singular instrument, but a wholly unique, all-encompassing personality that permeates the art in totality. In other words: Don't compare a band to an auteur.
Sure, Hundred Waters make a few vocal gestures that seem Björk-inspired. But what makes Björk so special is more than her versatile, wonderful, shifting vocal instrument—it's her flights of lyrical fancy, the spellbinding talent to turn a phrase into something like a whole new language; a repurposing of not just melody and rhythm, but idea.
I didn't find any such depth in The Moon Rang Like a Bell. The emotional longings were apparent, but distant. As such, I came away feeling much the same as I do about James Blake, whose thin-voiced confessions of woe come scrubbed in antibacterial soap. (Shit, now I'm comparing a band to an auteur... Maybe put it like this: James Blake ain't no Björk, either.)
Hundred Waters and Blake are indeed similar, at least in my mind's eye. I'd caught a fleeting glance of something dark, shiny, and seemingly ethereal that beckoned for greater inspection. But under a more focused gaze, those incisors all but disappeared into a kind of high-concept, toothless vapor.
On stage, however, Hundred Waters seem to have their cake and eat it, too. The flittering clatter, swirling atmospherics, imposing sub-bass thuds, and myriad other synthetics are played by hand, tapped out on keyboards and samplers, along with live drums. Set free from the sequencer, Hundred Waters crest with a more fervent pulse and swing.
As explained by Jon Pareles in the New York Times, the supposed influences of any singular touchstones are exceeded by Hundred Waters' collective interplay. "Hundred Waters' own art-rock is rhapsodic and mercurial: pointillistic or gauzy, meditative or dramatic, near-jazzy or quasi-classical, a percussion workout or a rock processional," Pareles wrote of their CMJ set in 2012. "Although the songs tended to stretch onstage, they were rarely jams; their patterns coalesced, dissolved, and transmuted into new patterns, taking their time but always headed somewhere fascinating."
So yeah—there are times when you just don't connect to a record. But there are also times when you'd still go see that band play live.