Half Waif explores catharsis on Lavender

LavenderHalf Waif, the nom de guerre of electronic artist Nandi Rose Plunkett, returns with her third album Lavender.

It's an album of pain and loss. That's not uncommon in music; often artists find that being creative is one of the most effective forms of catharsis there is. Two main questions then arise. How does the artist express that? And does it make for a listenable experience?

The answer to the first question is that Half Waif's expression is carefully crafted. It's understated and subtle. It's deliberately low key, and the music speaks for itself as much as the subject matter. It's a strong piece of expression, and a piece of work that's both fragile and strong.

And the answer to that question is what leads to the answer to the second question. Lavender is very listenable indeed. At least some of the reason for that is Half Waif's undoubted musical talent. The album skilfully interweaves experimental electronic landscapes with classical composition techniques making Lavender one of the most musically rewarding albums to have come out so far in 2018.

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It's a poignant album, but it's not a despondent one. Alongside the melancholy is a definite strand of hope that runs throughout. It's as much an album about moving on and letting go as it is about grieving and remembering.

What holds it all together is a sense of fragility. While not confessional in the traditional sense, Half Waif is unafraid of giving the listener a full glimpse of who she is and how she's feeling. This shared intimacy makes it feel like an album that has a strong sense of intimacy. It's an album where you get a shared experience rather than one that puts the listener in the position of an uninvolved audience.

The nature of the album can be best understood in the words of Half Waif herself. She explains that the album's name comes from her grandmother Asha and the garden lavender she would boil on the stove.

"When I wrote and recorded Lavender, my grandmother was alive, and though she wasn’t ill at the time of her sudden death in September, it was obvious her life – after 95 years – was drawing to a close. As a result, themes of ageing and collapse are all over this album. "

The album feels like a fitting tribute to Asha, being both soulful and reflective in equal measure.

The opening track "Lavender Burning" sets the scene for what's to come. At first, the sheer hypnotic nature of the music is what you notice. But listen more carefully and the song's subtler strengths become apparent. It's tasteful and engaging, able to use imagery in a way that stays with you long after the song ends.

Another definite highlight on the album is "Back in Brooklyn". Interestingly, it's also the track that is most dissimilar to the rest of the album and yet it fits perfectly. A stripped down piano ballad, the song is Half Waif at her most direct. With only the voice and the piano to concentrate on it feels like a distillation of everything, Lavender has to offer in one song.

Lavender is an album that arrives with some big expectations. In fact, the hype surrounding it has run the risk of distracting from judging it on its own merits. But thankfully it more than lives up to the expectations. Beautiful and profound, it's not an album you'll forget hearing in a hurry.

Release: 27th April 2018, Cascine

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