words by alexander smail
photo by tonje thilesen
It’s not mortality that I fear most, so much as growing old: having my body – or worse, my mind – corrode while all I can do is wait, unable to slow the ruthless march of time. That’s a lonely thought, yet it’s the most universal and natural process in the world. We’re born, we age, and we die. On Lavender, Half Waif’s Nandi Rose Plunkett views time not as a harbinger of death, but an agent of change which gives our lives meaning. From themes such as decay and frailty, she unearths beautiful – and at times uplifting – music. Marrying Celtic folk and operatic electronica, Lavender is a stunning reflection on life and loss.
On opener “Lavender Burning”, Plunkett describes the ill health of her grandmother, who died after she wrote the album, with quiet melancholy. Plunkett delivers phrases like “she’s lost her hearing, does not notice the cardinal” with equal parts reverence and empathy as a gravelly synth grounds her silky vocal melodies. Both the track and the album itself are named for one of Plunkett’s early memories of her grandma, who would gather lavender from her garden and boil it atop the stove to fill her home with the herb’s aroma. The plant was destroyed in the process, but from its death arose a rich scent.
It is within the void between life and death, love and hate, that Lavender dwells. The subject matter is often morose, but Plunkett’s music is never less than gorgeous – a glimmering beacon in an ocean of rot. On “Silt”, moody Twin Peaks-esque synths swim around a series of confessionals from the Williamstown native. These begin as declarations of independence, with Plunkett professing that nobody deserves her love, before taking a sombre turn when she reckons with her own loneliness. “Leveler”, meanwhile, is a stunning meditation on loss, where haunting lines such as “if I’m going to lose you, there’s nothing to do but lose” soar to the heavens atop Plunkett’s commanding vocals.
On a smaller scale too, Half Waif ponders decay and rebirth. “Torches” is a relationship post-mortem, where she rejects reconciliation and keeps her eyes firmly to the future. Her vocals start out muffled, submerged in the mix beneath vacuous electronics and a bubbly, understated beat before emphatically pushing to the forefront on the chorus. On “In The Evening”, Plunkett turns her back on the sun and treads into the night. Under the cloak of twilight, her thoughts are seared black: “there’s a life going on, but it doesn’t feel like me.” When smothered by anxiety, even holding out for daybreak can feel unendurable, but more often than not the thought of “coffee and milk, just the way you like” in the morning is enough to persist through the darkness.
Plunkett isn’t concerned so much with life and death on Lavender as she is with change. Loved ones pass, relationships wilt, we realise the person we thought we were no longer exists. Yet each day the soft warmth of the morning sun signals a new beginning. As raw and organic as the tender subject matter she brings to light, Plunkett’s music is bracing in its nakedness. Foraging imagery from nature like flowers from a garden, her soundscapes are brisk as air and her lyrics teeming with evocative illustrations of earth and water. From the ashes of our own personal apocalypses, life goes on.
Lavender is out April 27, via Cascine
Pre-order it here