Created during a residency at Gainesville’s Pulp Arts studio, Nandi Rose’s latest album as Half Waif is complex, daring, and emotionally unsettled.
At first, Nandi Rose intended her fifth album as Half Waif to be a return to the basics. With her longtime collaborator and producer Zubin Hensler, she embarked on a recording residency at Gainesville’s Pulp Arts studio. The idea was to let her songs ring plainly in space, rendered on piano instead of her usual synth pop settings. Mythopoetics retains traces of that original conceit, like the brief opener “Fabric,” a spacious, serene track that’s easy to imagine Rose playing on piano in an otherwise empty room. But that simple, congruous arrangement of the songwriter and her instrument soon fractures under the stress of her lyrics, scattering off into daring, swirling electronic arrangements that better suit Rose’s ruminations on love, aging, loss, and time’s impenetrable sweep.
Throughout Half Waif’s discography, Rose has excelled at staging intimate, escalating conflict laced with rich sensory detail. Burning lavender, unfolded laundry, cooling coffee, and other objects caught in states of change accentuate Rose’s own reckoning with entropy. She projects an uncertain gaze onto the relationships that sustain her—familial, romantic, platonic, creative—studying and testing the tethers in her web. Often, when the inquiry becomes overheated, her voice splits off from itself, chasing down a countermelody on a secondary track or merging into the electroacoustic instrumentation. Her subjectivity is polyphonous, unstable. She sings with conviction about the possibility that her certainty might shatter at any time.
Mythopoetics advances Half Waif’s tendency toward plurality of voice. More than ever, the distinction between Rose’s vocals and their environment seems called into question. “Horse Racing” punctuates her overlapping lines with synthesizers whose timbre approaches that of the human throat, shadowing her voice with an opaque, wordless register. On “Sodium and Cigarettes,” reverb-heavy backing vocals envelop and absorb similarly processed keyboard riffs. The voice expands to fill the surrounding vacuum, then swallows its accessories, a porous membrane rather than a steady, singular figure.
Many of Rose’s lyrics yearn for solitude while also reckoning with its impossibility. “Have I forgotten how to be alone? I blame you,” she sings against spare piano in the album’s first moments. On “Sourdough,” she flees from a “you” whose pronoun she sings with an accusatory grain, just after imagining bleeding herself dry to feed the ones she loves. She is, as everyone is, entangled with others, and, like many of us are, ambivalent about that entanglement. She pulses in and out of aloneness and communion, finding both to be constraining. On the highlight “Orange Blossoms,” Rose cries out from isolation for an ambiguous “somebody” who might help her weather the humiliations of existence: having to wake up, check email, move through time. “Somebody just give me the damn highlights/I don’t wanna be here,” she sings. “Everybody goes home/And the way there is not clear.”
Could the lostness itself be the way? When Rose is adrift, she seeks foundation; when she’s grounded, she sings herself loose. The constant, desirous shifts that mark her work suggest that the murk doesn’t obscure the map—it is the map. Dissatisfaction stirs our movement rather than stalling it. If Rose is restless, itching even amid a life that she has wrenched toward harmony, it doesn’t mark failure or a lapse from her path. It means the path keeps opening, beckoning her to fill its space.
Buy: Rough Trade