words by maria rose
main photo by landon speers
Listening to Nandi Rose Plunkett weave her silvery voice through pulsing synths at the start of “Severed Logic” is enough to make your blood pressure rise, to drag you into another dimension where strange geometries cast currents of space and sound, an unfolding of the twisted logic of a relationship, a dialogue within the self. The new EP release from Half Waif, form/a, is a startling journey of the heart around cavernous depths lacquered with odd scintillations of frost.
This is a record that explores the dreamlike quality of emotions, as well as casting a perspective on relationships that is at once nostalgic, pained and relentlessly strong. Plunkett’s register oscillates effortlessly between rippling sensitivity and an almost incantatory defiance, as on “Severed Logic”, singing: “My mood is a pendulum / I don’t think you can handle it”. Such surrealist images find their way throughout the EP, turning abstractions into vivid, insistent objects. If this is, as the band describe themselves on their Bandcamp, mood ring pop, then the signifiers of emotion are always in flux, melting between shades of darkness and moments of blinding colour.
This is the first Half Waif release which Plunkett co-produced, and although the style isn’t a major departure from previous work, there’s a certain move towards a luxurious feverishness. Indeed, there’s a sweetness to Plunkett’s voice, coupled with form/a’s hallucinatory atmosphere, that recalls the crisp lilts of fellow experimental Brooklynites, High Places. “Magic Trick”, at the EP’s heart, opens with immersive synths which form an ambient surrounding; the sounds you might expect underwater, with mermaids drifting eerily past. It’s a good 40 seconds before Plunkett’s voice enters, hauntingly: “The strangest part / is when you look at me / and I dissipate like fog in the morning”. At this point, we have reached the deepest part of form/a’s dark waters; languorous melodies pull us through a sleepy tide, never lifting to climax and keeping us locked in the spell of a dream.
The contrast between “Magic Tricks” and the maddening arpeggios that open “Frost Burn” startles us from complacency and just as we expect a slice of psychedelic disco, the synths cool quietly to give rise to mesmerising vocal melodies. It’s a technique that also works well on “Wave”, where the opening pound of heartbeat rhythms releases into twinkling synths and throbbing percussion, which build a disorientating fortress of sound around Plunkett’s stirring, increasingly urgent lines.
On “Frost Burn”, as the drum beats pick up, layered subtly between bubbling synths and flourishes of piano, Plunkett confesses: “I was fourteen when I had to learn what it means / to be an adult / it wasn’t my fault”. The dialectical interplay of softness and intensity makes “Frost Burn” a standout track, encapsulating the oxymoronic dynamic of tender strength that ripples through the EP as a whole.
“Night Heat’ is a slow burner, structured over a minimalist beat that loops almost disjointedly around the caramel glow of Plunkett’s voice, here accompanied by wisps of melancholy harmonies that break down into a solo piano interlude: “And you know that / This isn’t what I asked for”. There’s a sense of sublimity here, as Plunkett admits of love, “it’s bigger than us”; she doesn’t try to make sense of her feeling, to dress it up in poetry. Rather, she chooses language that is bare and direct, adorned only with the odd jewel of a wistful image: “early December in the country”.
Lyrics aside, it’s Plunkett’s softly modulating voice, the stratums of synths, beats and delicate harmonies, that do all the nuance. This is a record of tactile desires set against an evanescent self who struggles to swim to the light. “Cerulean” feels like floating on the still surface of the water we’ve inhabited before in storms, as Plunkett croons “my mood is not an invited guest / takes over my body and gives me no rest”. There’s a sense of being trapped in “the overflow”, but as the beats loop against flares of synths the song reaches a sort of catharsis: “staring into the deep cerulean / dreaming myself into oblivion”. As the singer longs to shed “every skin” but gets “heavier”, logged with memories, love and water, we are pulled into the weight of another dark current of escalating beats, until at last we dissipate along with the EP into a fragment of glitchy riffs, the flotsam of ourselves washed up on shore.
While form/a is an intense, demanding record, the warmth of Plunkett’s voice pulls us through the slipstreams of emotion with a poignancy that comforts even as it leaves us stranded sometimes in desolate landscapes of heartbreak and homesickness. Half Waif are swiftly proving their flair for both unique and sophisticated sound and form/a has an internal consistency, which meshes complex, often elusive themes with musical structures that are tangible and powerful. It’s not easy to commit six songs to a certain atmosphere, but Half Waif do it well, seducing us back into that sequinned world of submerged feeling, reeling in the twilit space of the self on edge.
‘form/a’ is out now, via Cascine.
You can buy it here
The Half Waif US tour begins March 9th – see the full dates here