At the onset of Half Waif’s latest album, “Mythopoetics,” you’re immediately thrown into the dignified, trying world of Nandi Rose Plunkett. Living up to the titular reference of making myths, “Mythopoetics” creates distance between traumatic moments through sonic beauty. Where artists choose to remain in the space of a paralyzing loss, Plunkett chooses to follow her loss with action — her dedication to movement showing across each track. Intimacy isn’t something to fear within each idea but an idea to be embraced in all of its parts, including the unknowing. Aligned with her previous tropes of maintaining a sense of security on 2020’s “The Caretaker” and working towards a trustworthy relationship on 2018’s “Lavender,” “Mythopoetics” contemplates a series of pivotal, heart-wrenching moments and stands as Plunkett’s strongest work yet.
“Swimmer” prefaces the album: a series of incisive writings driven by pounding synth kicks and snares. In this soundscape, you witness the evolution of a one-sided love unconcerned with reciprocation. The track is sure of its power and owns its run time, taking each synth and developing them into an arpeggiated unity in a warm, pop fashion.
Plunkett’s vocal scale blended with electronica displays how mature she’s grown as an artist. Her 2021 release of “Horse Racing” upgrades this blend; it maintains the album’s productive peak with a chillwave loop, which moves with the drums instead of directing them in the background. “The Apartment” also doubles down on this pop-adjacent style, acting as a ballad alongside a clattering synth roll that emphasizes separation.
To avoid getting carried away with synth-pop conventions, Plunkett remains aware of her strength as a writer; she knows when to provide more context for ideas and when to let them roam free. Tracks like “Sourdough” and the album’s first single, “Orange Blossoms,” feature subtle key inflections behind each lyric, opening the space for clarity. Of the lyrics in “Orange Blossoms,” the chorus features a project-defining quatrain: “I don’t wanna be here / How am I supposed to be healed? / Everybody goes home / And the way there is not clear.” As fun and direct as the album stands in the pop genre, “Mythopoetics” is a concentrated stream of vulnerability.
Half Waif is bound to receive comparison to indie-pop artist Mitski for their shared appreciation for grand soundscapes of emotion. “Midnight Asks” nearly resembles Mitski’s latest album, ”Be the Cowboy,” in its attention to a personified “midnight” prompting action in her daily life in each verse. To meet introspective writing with a pleasant sound is no easy feat, especially at Plunkett’s level. Unlike Mitski, however, Plunkett’s vocal range track by track permits a great layer of vulnerability.
Plunkett’s sought to go beyond technical performance on this album and express emotion outside of her classical training. Leading up to recording, she had to choose between trained convention and being a pop singer.
“I just wanted to see how far I could push that. I think I’ve pushed the pop thing as far as I want to go on this record, but it was a lot of fun,” Plunkett said to New Noise Magazine in an interview.
The album strikes as a sensitive exploration of vocal performance, wary of being pitchy at times. Plunkett admits to holding back on her previous albums in order to produce the perfect take. For ”Mythopoetics,” Plunkett allowed a bit more leniency for herself: “Hopefully I’m not pitchy, but if I am, it’s in service to the emotion … I want to keep giving the voice some space to be itself and to not be so in control.”
Instead of wishing for a savior’s communication through her phone, Plunkett resolves that her beliefs go beyond comfort with insufficiency on “Sodium & Cigarettes:” “Wishing you would call up knowing what you’d say / But I believe in something more / Than what you’re telling me.” The track rests appropriately on the album, closing out this chapter in Plunkett’s life. Not only does the track transport the listener into an emotionally intense space but also its resolution is doubly appropriate as the most decisive track, performed behind a grand piano and a stretching series of backing vocals.
For Half Waif, each day appears more hopeful and brighter than the last. “Mythopoetics” explores the bare psyche with enough bravery to leave no emotion behind. Plunkett considers loss, grief and heartbreak with both digital instrumentation and soul, not as a method of hiding but as a genuine exercise in reflection. Pop music’s conventions fail to consider its admirable warmth as a meditation.
Mason Stoutamire is a Contributing Writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.