John Preston shines the spotlight on Half Waif’s excellent grown-up synth pop album Lavender, one that you may have missed from earlier this year.
Lavender is Nandi Rose Plunkett’s third album. Her excellent EP from last year ‘form/a’ foreshadowed the rich but expertly reined-in musical skills of the Brooklyn-based singer song-writer honed to perfection here. Lavender is Plunkett’s most personal record to date and explores relationships to family in particular, places and partners, that her previous material tackled but without the abundant grace and power on this album.
This might be an age thing but is more likely attributed to Plunkett’s growth as an artist regardless of her years; so many performers’ first work will always be their best and can come as a consequence of luck, circumstance and an intense confidence. Lavender is Half Waif demonstrating that although those things are important, she also possesses that less common quality – talent.
The majority of this record stays within an intrinsically structured electronic framework although occasionally, and as on the peak-period Tori Amos recalling ‘Back in Brooklyn’, Plunkett will remain acoustic with just a piano for company.
The opening ‘Lavender Burning’ balances itself on a melodramatic and spare synth line that suddenly opens up to beats and electro-whooshes whilst Plunkett narrates time spend with her frail Grandmother, burning lavender on the stove and asks herself ‘is this all there is?’ Like the aforementioned ‘Back in Brooklyn’, Plunkett sings of how she misses New York and much of this record focuses on her disorientation bought about new and fleeting cities and places whilst on constant tour. It’s the record of someone who is constantly feeling ungrounded and their attempts to recognise how to change this and restore balance, a feeling – and challenge – that epitomises our times.
‘Silt’ takes influence for its macabre electronic score from Angelo Badelementi’s iconic Twin Peaks soundtrack whilst Plunkett takes up the role of a vicious and attacking lion; ‘nobody deserves me, I get lonely, I get angry’ which culminates in the memorable line, ‘when I try to keep it down, I get silt in my mouth’. It’s this kind of surreal storytelling that, combined with the more rooted realism found in tracks like ‘Leveler’ which places Plunkett in kitchens and trains, helps gives Lavender a stately and uncanny feel.
On ‘Lilac House’ and ‘Solid 2 Void’ strident, experimental synth-pop bolsters vocals and fluid, catchy melodies that tear through glassy rhythms. It’s an exhilarating experience and Plunkett pulls so many elements together – musically, lyrically – with such great skill and seemingly little effort that it easy to overlook just how much is going on.
The album becomes more introspective as it enters its final third. ‘Parts’ and ‘Leveler’ are quieter, sadder songs that reveal problematic relationships and subsequent survival techniques that may, or may not, have the desired effect.
‘Mother do you recognise your daughter?’ she asks on ‘Salt Candy’, a song that expands the family lineage with the same questions her own mother surely asked hers.
Closing track ‘Ocean Scope’ is a succinct accumulation of all these themes, musically and lyrically. ‘I can’t bear another ocean’ states Plunkett on top of an ambient wash that disrupts into a four- to-the-floor beat, and then just ends.
Half Waif have always made music that was full of promise and sometimes brilliant, but on Lavender all of the previous cracks are stuffed full of colours, mystery and superb song craft. If you’re yet to discover this beguiling piece of music then you’re in for a treat.