Earlier this month, I had a decision to make: Ultra or SxSW. Such are the first world problems I face on a daily basis. The choice between the EDM capital of the universe and the quirky rock hipster centre of the alternative universe was a painful one to make. Having had scores of life-changing, audio-visual-inspired epiphanies over three days in Miami, I’m happy with my ultimate conclusion. That said, I’m happier still that NPR, that bastion of all things good in radio over here in the States, also decided to take the hard work out of going to Texas and released what they like to call The Austin 100 and what I like to call The Easiest New Music Recommended I’ve Ever Stumbled Across. To be sure, not all of it is new to my ears. Which, I like to think, is a good thing. It suggests that we’re doing something right over here, getting to music before it hits the mainsteam (or the NPR stream in any event). But much of it, from flamenco-tinged tracks to the kind of country I wouldn’t listen to in a thousand years, has made for a really worthwhile listening adventure. From amid those tracks, wonderful and diverse as they are, comes Hundred Waters’ ‘Boreal’ which is the coolest thing I’ve heard in a while.
Hundred Waters are, by definition, cool because as with AWOLNATION (mentioned earlier in the week, signed to Red Bull Records), they are signed to a label that says so much about an act that they barely require an introduction. That label is OWSLA. Owned by Skrillex. Labelmates Zedd, Porter Robinson, Skream and Alex Metric. When a record label is so patently skewed towards the biggest paradigm shift of a genre in music for decades (the aforementioned EDM) and it signs an act like Hundred Waters which is so far out of the comfort zone of the typical demographic, you know there has to be something special going on. That or the label really screwed up in trying to do something different. With Hundred Waters, thankfully, it’s the former and there’s something seriously special going on. I haven’t listened to the entirety of their eponymous debut, released in September last year (to an 8.1 on P-Fork no less) but I almost feel like I don’t want to after hitting ‘Boreal’ on repeat for the last day. With nothing to recommend it but its inclusion in NPR’s ragtag collection of ‘to watch’ artists, ‘Boreal’ has consumed me like nothing else. Potentially because it sounds like nothing else.
There are so many ways in which ‘Boreal’ could have been an absolute failure. The ‘folktronica’ movement, which we might file the Florida five-piece under, is littered with casualties, punctuated by cautionary tales of bands who tried to do too much, too soon. ‘Boreal’ strikes you as something that is going to repeat some of that sadder history, as loose, rollicking and distracted as any of those less fortunate projects. Somehow, though, whether through good luck or good management, ‘Boreal’ never quite collapses in a heap of its own ambition and instead, remains fascinating from start to finish. And start to finish. Ad infinitum. The sheer scope of the enterprise is astounding. This is not the sort of song you could write, record and master in a couple of days. The vocal phrasing is ridiculous and catches you off guard with every verse. Little sort of jazz overtures poke their head through the ascending, ethereal synth chords only to pronounce their arrival and leave. I haven’t quite sorted the meaning behind the purple prose yet, and I’m not sure I ever want to. The beat, just about the only thing that’s predictable, decides it wants to be syncopated and weird for a few bars around 2’40″ and we raise no issue with that either. At 3’55″, ‘Boreal’ is not a particularly long track but it is exceedingly easy to get lost in. This is intelligent and challenging and markedly otherworldly and fantastic. Skrillex, we’re not in Texas anymore.
Hundred Waters – Boreal