There hasn’t been a shortage of art trying to pin down the feelings of Americans deeply affected by Donald Trump’s election, but the image Half Waif conjures on ‘Torches’ is among the more powerful. The second track on the New York trio’s third album depicts a wild fire tearing through an inland field, and the desperate feeling of wanting to escape the raging heat for the cooling antidote of the coast.
This recurring image kept visiting Nandi Rose Plunkett – chief songwriter with Half Waif and once a live member of Pinegrove – during the writing of ‘Lavender’. It’s a collection of songs about upheaval in its many forms: geographical, political, emotional. An album that spends a lot of time in transition, searching.
Most prevailing of those pursuits are Plunkett’s reflections on home, her roots and the significance of the female figures in her family. Plunkett is of Swiss, Irish and Indian descent, and the album’s opening track ‘Lavender Burning’ is a nod to her grandmother Asha’s habit for boiling the plant in the kitchen and filling the house with its soporific aroma.
It’s these connections Plunkett can be heard yearning for, and not just on ‘Lavender Burning’. They can be heard throughout, entwined with the feelings of isolation that come with touring, the country’s identity crisis and her own stranded sense of belonging. Piano ballad ‘Back To Brooklyn’ does that, too.
When the music isn’t about being away, Plunkett is often found examining her own mind. “I’ve had enough of this apocalypse / it’s not over,” she sings on ‘Solid 2 Void’, “there’s a part of me you’ll never know / even though you raised me.” And on introspective album centrepiece ‘Silt’, she observes: “I live like a lion / I’ll bite your head off if you let me.”
That doesn’t mean ‘Lavender’ is a weighty listen: quite the opposite. Musically, it’s a soothing sound – think Imogen Heap, Regina Spektor, Laura Marling and Tori Amos – that without attentive listening could be mistaken for a pleasant enough electronic-pop record. However, in Half Waif’s quest for some kind of calmness they’ve actually made an album that, inwardly, burns furiously.