Half Waif Lavender

[Cascine; 2018]

Styles: kisses on the wrist, sparks, grandmothers
Others: Kate Bush, Lorde, Mitski

When possible, song and dance avoid each other. At some point, though, the acuity of songwriting must confront meter’s totalizing sweep. According to song, rhythm fails to appreciate the richness of language and line, whose contours simply can’t stand rhythm’s cyclic habits. A reckoning will be required. On her latest, Lavender, musician Nandi Rose Plunkett splits the difference, giving us gorgeous songwriting bathed in infectious synth pop. “She bargained for precision with rhythm and beauty,” writes Kathleen Stewart of some unknown object, and now I apply it to Half Waif, a project led by Plunkett, co-produced by David Tolomei, and supported by Adan Carlo and Zack Levine.

Words behave like beats on this record, raising the question: what isn’t a beat? Drops pervade the tracks. Is every beat a drop? Every drop’s a bounty, certainly, and nowhere as abundant as on “Lavender Burning,” a song about the space filled by a “strange kind of loving.” Here and everywhere, phrases settle into evocative patterns, with language catching on feeling — boredom, loss, longing — and feelings caught on thought. Notions arrive from varied angles: terse wordplay charged with motion on “Lilac House” or abrupt metric breakthroughs in deliverance of scattered visions on “Solid 2 Void,” where emergence doubles up on itself. Every other song propels us just as well.

If the order of the day is a wry humor that often frays into jadedness, this record’s landscape of sentiment courts no such wear. Sheer loveliness reigns eternal; the music’s outer emotional boundary is not cutting, just indignant, a place the music ventures only as needed. On the sparing “Back in Brooklyn,” for example, Plunkett’s voice traces its insistent limit. Word and beat edge themselves to a standoff, sizing each other up in the midst of a proclamation: “The farther away I walk/ The more I’m a whisper/ Listen for me now/ He’s gotta listen for me now.” The voice unravels, beats fade, words cease, and the synths arise to inundate the void with recognition. I once doubted there was any cure for being taken for granted; now I see it’s been here all along.

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