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Half Waif’s ‘Lavender’ pitches a tent for the isolated

| Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Claire Kopischke | The Observer

In 1997, the illustrious German game designer Uwe Rosenberg introduced Bohnanza to the world — a card game that invites its players to build a microcosmic socio-economy at the hands of a particular, scarce resource, the bean (side note: bohne is the German word for bean, thus making Bohnanza a hilarious pun). Those, like noted player Nandi Rose Plunkett, who are lucky enough to take part in regular Bohnanza sessions, find solace in the game’s intentionally simplistic rendition of human connection. A player of the game can harvest, at most, three types of beans. His or her identity extends no further. Beans equate to money, and money to personal value. No player can rise above the sum total of his or her beans. The bean is everything.

Needless to say, reality does not revolve around the legume. Theories of the human connection posit questions of far greater depths than those of the richest pinto flavor. It would be unwise of us to use a delightful German game as an allegory for the relationship. But we need not worry. When our beans fail us, we can still turn to the ceaselessly-compelling art pop of Nandi Rose Plunkett’s project Half Waif — whose latest album, “Lavender,” comes out Friday.

That’s not to say Plunkett’s quietly erratic synth-pop-meets-Celtic-meets-a-smattering-of-classical-meets-a-bunch-of-other-really-cool-things-at-an-avant-garde-dance-gathering musical styling has all the answers. If a body of work claims to have all the answers, however, it’s either a religious tome, a B-school textbook or your weird uncle’s vanity press self-help volume. Plunkett’s music instead seems to ask the right questions — those not too broad to overwhelm us, but universal enough to comfort our wandering minds. “If everybody is searching for the same shelter / Why does anyone think it’s theirs to know,” Plunkett queries on the single “Torches” — a coy nod to the idea that our innermost musings, the pain and isolation we so often experience, are precisely the things that connect us to everyone else. In one respect, Plunkett’s question highlights the arrogance of those (evangelists, textbook writers and weird uncles) who glorify their own individual musings as divine law. But on another, more positive, level, the question implores the isolated individual to share his or her inner life with others because, ultimately, his or her “search for shelter” may be no different from that of the person he or she shares it with.

And where might this shelter be? Plunkett has a few ideas. Aurally, she searches for it in the measured precision of her classical training (she studied music theory at Kenyon College), the vocal and rhythmic fluctuations of her Celtic heritage, the mind-bending poetic-modernity of computerized sound and the liminal glimmer in the middle of an unexpected paradigm shift. Verbally, she drifts into “the shifting darkness,” “on the bright side” of a pungent lilac house and, in a particularly compelling fragment, “Back in Brooklyn, for the night […] Back in Brookedale, for the day.” “After hundreds of unknown streets in dozens of other cities, here were the streets I knew,” Plunkett writes (of Brooklyn, New York, and Brookedale, NJ) in an essay about the spare piano-driven track “Back in Brooklyn.” But the streets do not comfort her as she expects. Instead, they amplify the “rifts” between her present self and the self of her past. The spaces and, more significantly, the people within them do not love unconditionally. By tending her relationships with the spaces and people of her past, Plunkett discovers that her connection has faded drastically.

It takes more than beans to mend seismic relational rifts — fissions that condemn everyone to a loser’s status. But, Plunkett suggests, the losing end epitomizes “the same shelter” that everyone claims to know. “Burning lavender in the oven / Filling the space with a strange kind of lovin’” an isolated soul merely has to reach out: “Look after me now ‘cause I’m a lost woman.”


Artist: Half Waif

Album: Lavender

Label: Cascine

Favorite Track: “Back in Brooklyn”

If You Like: Florist, Deerhoof, Frankie Cosmos

4.5/5 Shamrocks

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