Nandi Rose has a dramatic penchant for wistfulness, a sort of purposeful melancholy. Mythopoetics, her fifth full length as Half Waif, is a beautiful extension of a series of great albums that began with 2018’s Lavender. The intense emotional weight of that record now seems to be a consistent direction—building on the stunning intimacy of last year’s The Caretaker, her new album blends together this signature sentimentality with progressive explorations.
Rose’s lyrics remain as direct and personal as ever, but reach into the past and beyond the realm of fact. Lyrically, the result lands not so far from The Caretaker, if a bit more experimental. “Somebody hold my head up / Somebody hope that I don’t give up, not this time / Somebody check my email / Somebody just give me the damn highlights.” The simultaneously literal and vague exposition evokes everyday emotion, but now it all takes place within a swirl of memory and dream.
“Swimmer” starts the album off with a bit of a tease, minimal and stiff, before the layers multiply all at once in a rich cascade of synthesizers. The bass blooms into an expansive foundation and Rose’s breathtaking voice soars upward. The first few seconds are so rote, and the beautiful change so immediate, it feels like an intentional bait and switch just to emphasize her new inclinations.
Her production leaps in compelling new directions, trading in some of her emotional vulnerability for catchier choruses and sharper hooks. Although this project is still focused squarely on Rose’s vocals, Mythopoetics is the most electronics-focused album from her yet. Most of this album is surprisingly danceable, even compellingly so. “Take Away the Ache” features a shuffling multilayered beat. The choruses of “Fortress” and “Horse Racing” bring a punchy bass, syncopated with her rhythmic lyrics, almost like modern R&B.
This project originally began as a stripped-down piano album, but Rose and her producer Zubin Hensler couldn’t resist continuing their exploration of synth-pop. Nevertheless, piano remains central throughout the album. Minimal passages open, close and divide the album into two parts with an interlude. At the midpoint, “Sourdough” features multiple layers of piano, echoing, some of it manipulated. The prepared piano blends together with lightly scraping synths. Rose belts out the bridge, before descending in steps, a foreshadow of the album closer. Half an album later, “Powder” takes us out, barely more than her voice and her keys. Rose’s voice wavers as it climbs steadily, cutting to a near whisper, and then descends, never fully resolving.
Throughout this album there is a subtle contrast between the powerful simplicity of these passages, and the maximalist electronic production. The piano works well here, interluding and layering, but it also works as a preview of that minimalist project they initially set out to make. I have just as much hope that Nandi Rose continues to follow her intuition toward the music she finds compelling, as I do that she does sit down and give us that piano album someday.