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The best songwriters — which Half Waif‘s Nandi Rose Plunkett can undoubtedly count herself among after the release of last week’s vibrant, immediate Lavender — pepper their songs with lines that land with both feet firmly on the ground. Their words float, twirl, and descend like gymnasts. But the majesty of it all isn’t in how the words travel, it’s in how they wind up affecting you.
Throughout Lavender, Plunkett lets loose insightful nuggets that are meant to both reveal her own intimate thoughts as they are to evoke something in the listener. When she asks repeatedly “is this all there is?” on the opening track “Burning Lavender,” it’s as much a specific query fraught from a moment of feeling lost in the world as it is a thought posed to everyone giving her record a spin. And in the most acrobatic way, it sticks the landing.
For people that have been following the Brooklyn songwriter’s career, which has spanned a number of Bandcamp offerings in addition to two full-lengths, 2014’s Kotekan and 2016’s Probable Depths, observations of Plunkett’s lyrical and compositional excellence aren’t some grand revelation. But tracing her career to date has shown a steady honing of her craft, with her albums coming at a regular enough clip that it is worth noting that she seems to improve proportionally with each subsequent release.
“For me, Lavender as a whole feels like a refining,” she told Stereogum last month, “honing my ability as a producer and arranger, but also lyrically.” And she didn’t need to point this out for the upward trajectory to become audible. Look no further than the entry of percussion two-thirds of the way through “Burning Lavender,” when Plunkett amps up the drama like never before. Showmanship is now just another card in her deck.
That Plunkett’s craft sounds so assured and in its right place on this, her third album, juxtaposes her longtime lyrical conceit of searching for a place in the world. The daughter of an Indian refugee mother and an Irish/Swiss-American father, Plunkett’s lyrics still strive to plant roots. On this album she is “trying to give a name to the place where my heart is” at one moment and, just a few songs later, being inspired by a short trip to her old home on “Back To Brooklyn.” By the album’s conclusion, when she is “on the road to nowhere” on “Ocean Scope,” it sounds like being between places, being disenfranchised, is, in a way, a source of comfort. When you’ve spent your life as an alien, floating through world might be as comforting as anywhere else.