By the 2010s, synth pop bands were so abundant that for Warp to sign one to their roster, it meant that the group was doing something special. On their debut EP This Desert, the Hundred in the Hands do more than just give the ‘80s musical CPR. Yes, the duo’s sound is rooted in synth pop, but it’s tempered with dream pop delicacy and more electronic artistry than many of their contemporaries. There’s also a frostiness to their music, and to Eleanor Everdell’s voice in particular, that puts them closer to labelmates like Broadcast than some groups that might seem more similar on the surface. Everdell recalls an American Trish Keenan on “Building is L.O.V.E.,” which, with its ghostly atmosphere and brisk beats, is a synth pop hit heard through mist. Her voice is so pure and clean that it doesn’t need a lot of musical adornment, and the best songs here take advantage of her girlish-yet-icy pipes to their fullest. “Tom Tom” is bewitching, contrasting Everdell’s voice with a spare, tribal beat and lovely a cappella harmonies; and when the guitars and drums warm up on “Sleepwalkers,” Everdell just gets colder, singing about “ugly silver skies.” While the Hundred in the Hands’ synth pop and post-punk influences are clear, the band isn’t slavishly obedient to them, even on the rippling “Ghosts,” which recalls the xx’s slow-burning beauty, and “In to It,” a spare but joyous track that boasts guitars equally inspired by Afro-pop and the Durutti Column. On almost every song here, the group switches between reveries and danceable beats, a trick that works well except for on “It’s Only Everything,” a harder-edged track that finds Everdell failing to pull off Siouxsie Sioux-style hauteur convincingly. She, and This Desert, are much more convincing when they’re ethereal, and though the Hundred in the Hands are figuring out their strengths here, this is still a confident and distinctive debut.
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AllMusic Review by Heather Phares