For half a decade, the work of New York artist Half Waif, the orchestral, synth-rock brainchild of multi-instrumentalist Nandi Rose, has patiently flown under everyone’s radar. Her sophomore effort 'Lavender' and it’s follow up 'The Caretaker' centered around Rose’s own anxious manifestations: generous bouquets of tunes about pushing away your loved ones, and the grand sonic gestures of what aftermath lingers from those disconnects. But on 'Mythopoetics', Rose, with the help of virtuoso Zubin Hensler, expertly gains momentum and builds off of the solitary genius of the record’s predecessors. The product of Rose and Hensler’s collaboration is the best Half Waif album to date, a confident, patient interrogation of what can be discovered among the fault lines of illness, grief, and reliance.
'Mythopoetics' is 37 minutes of filler-less songbird prayers, where Rose pulls down the zipper of her own lungs and writhes her inmost misery. On 'Sourdough', Rose’s layered, echoing lyrics unfurl atop a circling, singular piano and reckon with romantic dependency: “I would stare at the sun / If it’d help the ones I love.” The synths rest underneath her patient vocals like a tenor heart monitor, until they disappear halfway into the track and Rose emerges with a cerebral bellow, juxtaposing a desire to give away parts of herself with the loneliness that endures inside her.
“Take Away the Ache” interrogates the lengths we go to for our loved ones. When the thrushes of piano rise to the surface, and the cut-up pulses of electric morse code tap against a looping percussion beneath, they don’t overpower Rose’s singing, which is firmly, and marvelously, always where the gaze of Mythopoetics holds steadfast. The album’s chef-d’oeuvre is 'Swimmer', a stark, grounded vignette about the repercussions of Stage- 5 Alzheimer's. “You may not know it / But I am loving you,” Rose serenades at her loved one’s bedside, during a final moment when their one staying memory is in song.
Where 'The Caretaker' circled the drain on solitude and independence in the wake of loss, 'Mythopoetics' is the manifesto on surviving and then transitioning through tragedy and isolation brilliantly repurposed from the former’s debris. And despite its meticulous and grandiose instrumentalization, this record is Nandi Rose’s 'Camelot', a masterclass in her own interpersonal gut-wrench, where she has finally figured out how to build a wall of sound that compliments her breathtaking vibrato. After using the eternalness of perennials to reckon with the longevity of loss on 'Orange Blossoms', and by the time the swarming dust turns to falling snow at the end of finale 'Powder', grief has left its mark on 'Rose', but her perspective is clear: “The house is gone. / A vacant lot, / A little scar,” she sings on the ultimate track, unmasking the trauma still echoing even the smallest tokens of remembrance in her.
Words: Matt Mitchell
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