Every now and then I take a stab in the dark and pick a random album to review for Picky Bastards. I had never heard of Half Waif, otherwise known as Nandi Rose, when I put my name down next to Mythopoetics and had no idea what sound I should expect. It turns out, though, that Rose is no mysterious upstart finding her way into the game. I had, inadvertently, picked out a piece of work from someone who was not only on their fifth solo album, but is also a longstanding member of the very successful band Pinegrove. Which might mean something to you, I suppose. I’ve personally never heard a single song by them. But the reason I bring all this up is to say that Half Waif obviously comes with some pedigree, so probably didn’t deserve my initial reaction to the LP. For my first four or five listens, before I knew any of this information, all I could do was try and find out who the fuck this album reminded me of so strongly.
I still haven’t figured it out. There are parts of the performance here that remind me of Florence and the Machine, elements that scream Bat For Lashes, and moments that make me think of more experimental artists like FKA Twigs. But whether I was thinking of these artists, or someone else entirely, I initially found it really difficult to judge Mythopoetics on its own merits and not just as something that was reminiscent of so many other things.
When I did, though, the album started to take hold. While the wispy and wistful opener ‘Fabric’ perhaps indicates a soft, folky experience is about to be presented to us, it is more a taster of the emotional mood of the album than it is the musical mood. This song deals immediately with disconnection, isolation, and heartbreak – and while these are themes that will resonate throughout the piece, second song ‘Swimmer’ shows us that it will often be met with much more vigour. A glitchy and often frantic song, it switches the atmosphere of the album up in an instant and forces the listener to pay attention.
From that point onwards it is an album that will constantly grip you with its off-kilter instrumentation and explosive vocal performances. ‘The Apartment’ buzzes with menace over a beat that constantly threatens to lose its shit but never quite does, ‘Party’s Over’ uses spacey synths to add intrigue to what could have become a slightly too dreamy ballad without them, and album highlight ‘Horse Racing’ sets its stall out early with sounds that would feel more suited to a sci-fi soundtrack underpinning one of the most emotive lyrical shows on offer here. It’s a strong run of songs in the middle of the album, and that continues with the ethereal ‘Orange Blossoms.’
Things do tail off slightly with ‘Midnight Asks’, ‘Sodium and Cigarettes’, and ‘Powder at the end of the album. None of these are bad songs, but they hold less intrigue than the many highlights. Alongside them, the tracks ‘Sourdough’ and ‘Take Away The Ache’ probably do hold this album back from being exceptional. If everything was as good as ‘Swimmer’, ‘The Apartment’, and ‘Horse Racing’ we might be discussing an album of the year contender – but as things stand we are looking at a surprising gem, an intriguing and complex mix of genres, all buzzing along under a fantastic vocal and lyrical performance by Rose. Fans of Pinegrove and the previous four Half Waif albums will probably not be shocked by any of this, but for me personally this was an unexpected and very welcome discovery. Now will you please give the album a listen and let me know who it is that they remind me of? It’s still doing my head in today.
Words by Fran Slater