|Half Waif — Lavender (April 27th, 2018)|
Half Waif — Lavender (April 27th, 2018) •★• “It wasn’t a delicious solitude I found; it was fitful and frightening and hard. But that was something I needed to learn about myself in the present.”
Location: Brooklyn, NY
Album release: April 27th, 2018
Record Label: Cascine
01 Lavender Burning 3:21
02 Torches 3:13
03 Keep It Out 3:34
04 Lilac House 2:28
05 In the Evening 3:31
06 Solid 2 Void 2:08
07 Silt 3:58
08 Back in Brooklyn 3:07
09 Parts 2:54
10 Leveler 3:52
11 Salt Candy 3:53
12 Ocean Scope 2:56
MARISSA LORUSSO, April 19, 20185:00 AM ET
•★• Nandi Rose Plunkett is a seeker. As frontwoman of synth~pop outfit Half Waif, Plunkett writes songs that travel profoundly inward — asking questions about who we are and how we relate to each other — over beds of electronic instrumentation that expand and recede like ocean tides. There is a darkness that cuts through Half Waif’s songs, hinting at a searching that is often born of loss and struggle. Lavender, the group’s latest album, centers on questions of loneliness and isolation, of the consequences of hard~fought wisdom and self~knowledge.
•★• Half Waif spent months on the road leading up to the album’s recording, and it shows; many of Lavender’s songs have a narrator who feels adrift, reaching towards an unattainable sense of home. “You used to say / ‘When are you coming back?’ / Then came the day / When you no longer asked,” Plunkett mourns on “Torches.” In an essay about her single “Back In Brooklyn,” a stunning piano ballad from the album, Plunkett describes how returning from tour left her feeling isolated and aching: “I was unmoored and questioning everything — not least of all my decision to forgo the stability and community I had cultivated in New York for something more ephemeral ... There is a loneliness about this life that is hard to describe.”
•★• “Back In Brooklyn” is the most unadorned of Lavender’s songs: just Plunkett’s voice and the piano (and a brief sample of a New York subway horn). It’s perhaps the only place on the record where Plunkett’s voice breaks from its classically~trained veneer: For all the impressive clarity and range she demonstrates across the record, there is something nearly heart~stopping about the way her voice cracks as she begs her listener to “listen for me now.” Her formal training shines through, too, in the careful stacks of electronic arrangements in these songs and her layers of vocal harmonies. Bandmates Adan Carlo (bass and guitar) and Zack Levine (live drums) add touches that ground and structure the songs, providing a stable base for Plunkett’s waves of synths and keyboards.
•★• Lavender is, in many ways, an album about isolation, but its inverse threads its way into many songs; themes of connection — specifically, matrilineal connection — appear across the album. The album is named in honor of Plunkett’s grandmother, who had a habit of picking lavender from her garden to boil on the stove — a ritual of beauty, but also one of purification, Plunkett believes. On “Salt Candy,” Plunkett addresses her beloved maternal figures directly: “I was once a thousand other things now I’m not / I don’t understand why / Mother do you recognize your daughter? / Little head so full of big ideas.” There’s an ache to the song, which — like many on the album — pulls gently on the tangled threads of growth, dependency, the self and family, earnestly seeking an answer yet fearful of triggering a total unraveling. But across its 12 tracks, Lavender shows Plunkett coming to terms with the reality that pain is often an important intermediary to wisdom, that a little unraveling can help let the light in. •★• https://www.npr.org/
by Sasha Geffen, APRIL 25 2018; Score: 7.8
•★• A woozy dynamic of pushing people away while simultaneously drawing them close courses throughout Lavender, a striking album of beautifully rendered and deeply layered synth~pop.
•★• Because Nandi Rose Plunkett is so generous with her voice it can be easy to overlook the complex systems of beats and instruments layered behind it. An album about love, familial legacy, and the inevitable decay of human life, Lavender maintains an aversion to linear time. Plunkett’s grandmother, who was near the end of her life when Lavender was recorded and has died since, stirs the titular flower in a pot on the stove and walks through her garden; Plunkett is carried in her mother’s arms like a child; a relationship with a lover appears cross~sectioned in the now, all its conflicts and joys open to the light. Past and future converge on this album, which so badly seeks resolution to the stories in which human beings perpetually ensnare themselves, and so deeply knows that these stories have no ends.
•★• The recursion Plunkett finds when she looks back at her family and forward into her own relationships manifests itself in the album’s instrumental loops and persistent choruses. Its crown jewel, “Silt,” climaxes with a lyric Plunkett sings over and over, each time more urgently. “If you’d only give me what I wanted,” she repeats, stretching the “me” out in the back of her throat to turn the words into a demand, while a shuffling backbeat whips the song into a frenzy. The effect is similar to what happens when Björk lacerates her vowels; it’s as if the voice has to break because it cannot contain the feeling put into it. Earlier in the song, Plunkett deploys a different vocal strategy: She runs a distant~sounding backup vocal through Auto~Tune, depleting her own voice of the nuance it can convey. The overdriven primary vocal and the diluted backing vocal mirror the duality she traces in her lyrics, where she sings, with a note of apology, “Nobody deserves me/I get lonely/I get angry.” Self~effacement and desire compete for space — Plunkett shrinks herself and then explodes herself, awash in what she wants and ultimately unafraid to ask for it.
•★• That dynamic, of pushing people away while simultaneously drawing them close, courses throughout Lavender, Plunkett’s third album as Half Waif. It’s a central paradox of intimacy: No matter how much you’d like to dissolve yourself in someone’s love, you still have to return to the isolated body you’re forced to call home. Among these songs, Plunkett finds herself in opposition to those she cares about most at the same time she wants to unify with them. It’s not an irrational roadblock; it’s just a particular condition of being alive.
•★• Beneath her words, Lavender ripples with the densest, most expansive production yet recorded under the Half Waif name. The album’s lyrics might stand out first because they are sung so clearly and with so much urgency, but Plunkett accomplishes a difficult feat in welding her voice to her backing tracks so that each song emerges as a singular organism. The jittery synth line on “Lilac House” juts into her percussive delivery, a subtle guitar riff pulses under her searching vocal melody on “Keep It Out,” and even the comparatively straightforward piano ballad “Back in Brooklyn” echoes the lyrics’ feeling of placelessness in the way Plunkett’s hands wander restlessly across the keys. Her voice dips in and out of its surroundings, and the surroundings reinforce the voice — the more you listen, the more they blend together as one. The courage necessary for making an album this emotionally raw bleeds into both the words Plunkett sings and the adventurous, far~reaching melodies through which she sings them.
•★• Through its weighty discussions of desire and love and the impossibility of complete resolution in any relationship, Lavender cracks open a sense of freedom. It would be easy to get bogged down in these subjects, to give up, to make the album a monument to despair. Instead, Plunkett finds momentum in her songs, as if naming and dissecting the finer points of loving people somehow lifted its weight. There comes a point where you realize that devoting yourself to someone will lead to the suffering of one kind or another, and yet you surrender to it anyway. Lavender hits upon that moment of surrender, holding its strange alchemy up to glitter in the light.
Danny Turner: https://blog.native-instruments.com/half-waif-creating-sounds-from-isolation/
Interview, Words and Photos by Kara Kokinos: http://allstonpudding.com/interview-half-waif/
|Half Waif — Lavender (April 27th, 2018)|