Half Waif Searches for Home on 'Lavender'
Half Waif's new album is a veritable masterpiece. Each track intimately explores questions both large and small about relationships, politics, nostalgia, and identity.
27 April 2018
Lavender is an album in motion. Nandi Rose Plunkett -- the mastermind behind the project -- has made name for herself as an artist who delicately yet deliberately searches for home. Lavender continues this journey through 12 tracks that are fantastically in flux.
Many are familiar with Half Waif because of the perhaps-controversial success of Pinegrove, of which bandmates Adan Carlo and Zack Levine are also members. With this venture, Plunkett and company permanently prove their place as a force to be reckoned with in their own right. Though the successful elements of Pinegrove are definitely present-- a love for story, an instant and indescribable familiarity between artist and audience, and even perhaps a nod to breakthrough album Cardinal in the opening song-- this album shows that Half Waif is stepping out from the shadows of projects past and taking the spotlight.
Essentially, Lavender feels like three distinct albums. The first is a straightforward pop album. Tracks like "Torches", "Solid 2 Void", and "Lilac House" could be classified as such. Here, Half Waif clearly draws upon the influence of their contemporaries and friends, channeling sounds popularized by Snail Mail's Lindsey Jordan, Angel Olsen, and even Lorde. With their cotton candy beats and Auto-Tune vocals, it would be simple to cast these tracks off. However, in many ways, tracks like this have been the backbone of the Half Waif project. These tracks are most similar to earlier albums, drawing a golden thread through the group's discography as a whole.
Then, there's the tour album, with songs encompassing the idea of being on the road and returning to a constantly shifting home. The thesis statement lies for this section lies in "Keep It Out", when Plunkett sings, "We seek to settle, we make a home / It's fun for a little until it's old." A heavily relatable sentiment, this theme births the most breathtaking track on the album, "Back in Brooklyn". The track is a soft piano album that is perhaps most accurately described as a love child between the piano of Regina Spektor and the restless melancholy of Joan Didion. Plunkett gently sings, "I called you up when I got back / Where have you been? / Don't ask me that." At times, the dialogue between vocals and piano make it unclear whether the piano is another voice, or if Plunkett's voice has transcended into an actual instrument.
Finally, the third album is a more tricky beast. Plunkett brings us with her as she searches for her identity in her constantly shifting world. Plunkett processes the legacy her grandmother left behind in opening track "Lavender Burning", a beautiful ode to memories of places and people. "Parts" adds a political shade in Plunkett's struggle for selfhood, as she muses, "I'm sitting here crying 'cause I'm alive. / I don't know why I'm still in this country." In her lyrics, Plunkett struggles with the need to be alone with the urge to surround herself with familiar people and places. Sonically, this need is fuelled by fluid, and sometimes dissonant, instrumentation.
So how do these three distinct themes fit together? Apparently, perfectly. The album is organized effectively, transitioning from heavy tracks to relatively consumable songs. This is also a testament to the power of David Tolomei. In addition to Half Waif, Tolomei sports an impressive resume, having worked with many heavy-hitters including Beach House, Dirty Projectors, and the Antlers. Credited with drums, piano, and Wurlitzer recording and engineering along with the mixing of the project, it's clear that his careful hand helped facilitate the effortless flow of Lavender.
Most of all, the emotion behind the songs ties them together. That's what makes this album stand out. There's no way to measure how much feeling is embedded in a piece of art. It's impossible to quantify what makes an album sound personal. However, it's clear when it's heard, and Half Waif certainly has it. Each track intimately explores questions both large and small about relationships, politics, nostalgia, and identity. Plunkett's transcendent writing is the needle that threads all of it together. Lyrically, she does some of her best work so far on Lavender. Distilled, the lyrics to "Silt" could be confused for an excerpt from poet-laureate Warsan Shire's oeuvre. I tried to pinpoint the most emotionally resonant line in penultimate track "Salt Candy" and ended up circling every line. These incredible lyrics paired with the inimitable work by Carlo, Levine, and Tolomei creates a complicated, surprising, and ultimately quite a beautiful piece of art.
My biggest complaint about Lavender is that it ends. But as Plunkett sings in the final song, "Ocean Scope", we all know that it has to.