Half Waif - Lavender - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Half Waif - Lavender

by Mark Moody Rating:9 Release Date:2018-04-27
Half Waif - Lavender
Half Waif - Lavender

Nandi Rose Plunkett, performing as Half Waif, continues to refine her approach and song writing skill on her strongest-yet third LP, Lavender.  Accompanied by fellow Pinegrove bandmates, Adan Carlo (bass/guitar) and Zack Levine (drums), the album is so dominated by Plunkett’s intricate synth constructs and layered vocals that it’s hard to view Half Waif as anything other than her alter ego.  Similar to Annie Clark being synonymous with St. Vincent, but Plunkett doesn’t hide behind character and lays her story and emotions bare.  Even though the lyrics may be oblique in places which lends universality to the album’s themes, her hushed confidence recalls the sweep of Kate Bush.  While the songs with the sturdiest instrumentation (‘Lilac House’, ‘Solid 2 Void’), echo Clark’s bristling energy.  But it’s in the dignity of its quietest moments that Lavender garners its strength.

The woozy strains of the opening track ‘Lavender Burning’, lull the listener until Plunkett over enunciates the word “cardinal” causing a mental rewind of the tape to realize she is singing of her recently departed grandmother.  The image of her grandmother burning lavender on the stove is left to simmer as Levine’s drums sympathetically carry things along and Plunkett’s tasteful wordless wails bring the mourning to a close.  The gently gurgling ‘Leveler’ later on also speaks to the depth of her loss as Plunkett soothes “I’ll be holding your hand as you’re losing your mind”.

Plunkett’s classical training and reflective introspection inform the rest of the album as well.  The ultimately propulsive first single, ‘Keep It Out’, speaks to the generalities of missed connections - “watch me while I disengage”.   While the insistent ‘Lilac House’ shows Plunkett pushing against her learned bounds as she twists the words “I never was a corner cutter” and makes clear she is ready to explore darker nooks of her psyche.

The two most powerfully complex tracks here also contend with the unease of leaving perceived comfort to face the unknown.  The cinematic scope of ‘In The Evening’ evokes a spotlighted solo turn from a Broadway musical as Plunkett wrestles with her gut instinct to leave a disintegrating relationship.  The resignation in the line “we will go back to the same old story we know, we can’t divide” speaks levels of maturity in knowing unraveling is needed but painfully unlikely.  Levine also steps in here so deftly as to be almost unnoticed but proves himself emotionally plugged-in while advancing the proceedings.  The beautifully spare piano and vocal ballad ‘Back in Brooklyn’ shows Plunkett pushing away as what seems reconciliation:  “it’s easier to stay”, crumbles as the line concludes “half a world away”.  She reserves the one moment on the album where she raises her voice to implore her lover to listen to her at her quietest.  

Plunkett has given us, and whomever she is addressing in these songs, the full gift of vulnerability at a cost that is probably dear.  The public unpacking of wounds sustained and unlearning of a lifetime’s muscle memory puts her at the confessional equivalent of Sufjan Stevens at his most personal, but perhaps with a bit more grace.  As she sings at the beginning of ‘Parts’, “I’m sitting here crying because I’m alive”, Plunkett gives hope that through pain comes growth and that maybe sometimes you can unring the bell.  Though she has delivered a work of near perfect beauty, what should be most clear is the beauty that comes in being imperfect.   

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