Album Review: Lavender, by Half Waif

by on May 6, 2018

Posted in: Album Review, Music, Uncategorized

Listening to Lavender is like reading a fantasy novel before “maturity” ruined that for you. Nandi Plunkett—A.K.A. Half Waif—crafts haunting melodies that suspend you in a dusky dreamworld. She takes on the role of this world’s troubadour, disturbed by her travels, by homesickness, by a very beautiful kind of sadness. We follow her as she drifts between coasts, exploring the complications of female heroism.

The album cover sets up the main conflict by depicting the opening lyrics, “Staring out into the shifting darkness, / Trying to give a name to the place where my heart is.” On this first track, “Lavender Burning,” solo synth gives voice to the mysterious landscape Half Waif will explore for eleven more tracks. Just as the soundscape is neither consistently full nor sparse, Lavender’s world is part coast, part plains, and part void. It shifts between forms, and its instability is exactly what makes it such a captivating fantasy-scape.

On “Torches,” Half Waif finds herself beside an “undying coast,” looking out into the distance, where a fire ravages the landscape. Competing melody lines embody these competing images throughout the song. Then in “Keep It Out,” a narrative develops: she seeks shelter from the landscape and illustrates the double nature of taking refuge—in order to find security, you have to shut out everything that could render you vulnerable, even the romantic and beautiful. On the next track, she pushes on, out of safety and towards a “lilac house” where she looks for “trouble.” Like so many classic fantasy heroines, she struggles to balance her fear of vulnerability with her lust for adventure. Thus on “In the Evening,” she sings, “Don’t expect me to come home in the evening, / You know that I’m trying to face the night,” then, “In the morning there’ll be tea and coffee, / You know I can provide.” A traditionally feminine part of her is trying to reconcile her more masculine desire to “face the night.” This conflict manifests itself in her resentment towards the very person she longs to take care of: “Don’t expect me to be happy to see / That you’re happier than me.”

“In the Evening” also marks a thematic transition. Musically, it is the most haunting, featuring siren-like synths and chilling vocal effects. It lulls us into the album’s second half, when Half Waif confronts her ambivalence towards her own magnanimity. “I’ve had enough of this apocalypse,” she sings on “Solid 2 Void.” Then on “Silt”: “If you want my love / I will guide you, I will be your anchor… / I would let you in, / Without poison, eat my anger.” Part of her no longer wants to be the hero, to be responsible for those unsympathetic to her emotional complexity. Another part thinks that if she continues to perform exhausting care work, others will forgive her hysterics (so to speak).

Meanwhile, her physical world continues to shift. She moves in and out of domestic spaces, stopping briefly in an ethereal version of Brooklyn represented by solo piano. She grows sick of place (on “Parts”: “I’m sitting here crying ‘cause I’m alive, / I don’t know why I’m still in this country”) and its apocalyptic relationship to her heroism (“But now I feel ashamed / Because what’s the use in crying / When I’m trying to be great?”). In “Leveler,” she wanders to the shore—a Celtic melody illustrating her environment—where she spends the remainder of the album still, finally, and reflective.

The album’s end embraces femininity. On “Salt Candy,” Half Waif craves maternal intimacy, the ocean currents’ passivity. Whereas previously she sought coherence, on the final track, “Ocean Scope,” she accepts her own emotional ambivalence and resistance to narrative: “I don’t wanna know this, / I don’t wanna know how this ends. / In the grand scope of things, / I know.” Experience overwhelms her. The synths fade out, drowning.

Lavender is, of course, about love. It’s about the difficulty of caring for others when you feel unstable yourself, of maintaining strong relationships when you’re a touring musician. Your sense of place grows precarious, and so does your sense of self—fantasy becomes a refuge. Pretty things bring comfort: somber harmonies, purple flowers, drawn-out echoes. It’s a kind of escapism, sure. But it’s also a kind of agency. We create our fantasies, and when we create, we choose the colors through which we want to be seen.

Plunkett chose purple, a mix of red and blue. Her dreamworld celebrates the complexity of gender, how femininity can be generous and selfish, gentle and furious simultaneously. Femininity doesn’t oscillate between these binaries but rather embodies them all at once, and Plunkett’s lyrics emphasize this through their many pithy contradictions. She longs to go home; she longs to keep moving. She wants domestic love; she wants notoriety. Plunkett lends a feminine voice to a feminine keyboard to a feminine conflict: how can you find stability in a world that insists you pursue your ambitions and settle down?

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