Half a year ago, I had never heard, or heard of, the band Half Waif. But Nandi Rose Plunkett and her collaborators from Brooklyn were touring with Julien Baker, who I had fallen in love with in late 2015 (introduced by an ex-boyfriend). They were coming to Boulder, Colorado in December 2017 and I thought about going, but I was too busy in the middle of graduate school finals. Plus, I thought, I like Phoebe Bridgers (found on my own) better and I'd rather see Overcoats (introduced by a good college friend) in Denver that week. But I did look up Half Waif on Soundcloud, and found myself listening to the best thing since Emily Haines and the Soft Skeleton's 2006 album Knives Don't Have Your Back (introduced by a high school friend). I was blown away by "Tactilian" and became mesmerized by "Overthrown" off her 2016 album, Probable Depths. I listened on repeat in my bedroom, in the morning, the afternoon, before bed. There was something about Plunkett's musical musings that got under my skin, into my mind, and weighed on my heart.
So when I found out she was releasing a new album this spring and coming to Denver, I knew I would be there.
In one of her first singles from the new album, "Keep It Out," Plunkett addresses this in the context of a relationship: "Keep it out, keep it in / I'll keep you out, so you never see me unraveling." I felt like what I was unable to tell others or put into song, she could know in secret. The dynamic build in instrumentation paired with her elegant and mature vocals moved me, building up and releasing me from my own self.
When the full album finally dropped in the weeks before graduation, I felt myself right in the middle of the opening track, "Lavender Burning" as she sings, "trying to give a name to the place where my heart is" and "that's the loneliest feeling, to be on a road and not know where it's leading." It's now mid-May and I still don't know where I'm living in two and half months, what I'll be doing, or who I'll be spending my time with. For the first time in six years, the world is open before me and I don't quite know where I'm going or where I want to be. The heavy drumbeats echo the pounding of my heart, the ticking of a clock; Plunkett's ah's mimick my morning sighs.
"Is this all there is?"
Plunkett is on par with prolific and dynamic songwriters and performers as Emily Haines, Caitlin Pasko, My Brightest Diamond, St. Vincent, Fiona Apple and Mitski. Her band's agility and mastery of acoustic and electronic elements brings her to an even higher level. Together, the words, sounds, and performance of Lavender are being noticed--by NPR, by Paste, Pitchfork and more--and deservedly so. But the intimacy with which Half Waif has buried into my own being will always be there. It's the kind of thing that happens when I first listen to a band on my own, and get to see them live at a small venue like Larimer Lounge. But it's a rare and special circumstance when an artist so aligned with my favorite style of music making comes into my life, with an album that I needed at just the right time. For in telling her own story, Plunkett has helped me understand and navigate my own. And now Half Waif is an essential part of the story, too.