Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: Lavender

Half Waif – Lavender (Album Review, Stream, Live Videos)

Last Friday offered an extraordinary outpouring of new records with several of those releases seeming poised to be legitimate Album of the Year contenders. While those records hit hard, Half Waif’s Lavender hit hardest. A handful of the record’s songs have been featured here already but it’s the cumulative effect of the record that elevates the songs from heartrending to heart-stopping.

Nandi Rose Plunkett, Half Waif’s fearless bandleader, wrote Lavender in the waning days of her grandmother’s life and found a way to preserve her memory in astonishing fashion with Lavender. Imbued with familial love and meditations on the joys and consequences of mortality, Lavender ceaselessly finds ways to grapple with heavy burdens through a series of open questions, some unanswerable. The examination process is one that becomes intimately familiar to anyone whose ever had to confront the death of a loved one and it’s not hard to read into Lavender as a personal reckoning from someone in the throes of that journey.

It doesn’t take long for the ghost of Plunkett’s grandmother to find a home in Lavender, appearing as early as the record’s breathtaking opener “Lavender Burning”.  That specific song is a perfect introduction to the record as it marks a slight — but distinct and extremely important — stylistic shift for Half Waif, who move into a more subdued realm that’s enhanced by a re-dedication to introspection, more naked here than at any point in their discography.

“Watching my grandmother walking her garden, she’s lost her hearing does not notice the cardinal”, Plunkett sings, cardinal breaking up into lilting syllables as the memory overwhelms. It’s one of many small vignettes that litter Lavender‘s landscape, flowers dead and blooming. It’s not long before the burden of knowing sinks in and cries of “Is this all there is?” ring out over lush beds of synth and intuitive instrumentation. Confined to a confrontational solitude, Plunkett starts wrestling with existential autonomy: a sense of place, the weight of decisions, and the fear that accompanies free will.

All of these questions, all of these backwards looks and sideways glances are more immediate than any single narrative Half Waif’s presented in the past. They’re also by far the most gripping, as the music Half Waif has afforded these moments is their most expansive, textured, and ambitious to date, leaning hard into the band’s more ambient sensibilities. Lavender‘s rhythm section pulsates with purpose, reverberating throughout the record with the clear knowledge that the stakes here are legitimately life and death. From start to finish, it’s a fight for the means to survival.

If Plunkett’s grandmother is the foremost figure of Lavender, New York City and Plunkett herself aren’t too far behind. The relationship between the two, specifically, anchors some of the record’s most breathtaking stretches, including both “Lavender Burning” and “Back In Brooklyn”, which the songwriter penned an incredibly moving essay for over at The Talkhouse. “Back In Brooklyn” is a song that lands with exceptional force for anyone who’s ever been wrapped up by the titular city’s formidable being and goes a long way in laying out Lavender‘s gently beating heart.

Not coincidentally, the song resides in the album’s central stretch, arriving just after “Silt”, the two constituting Lavender‘s most breathtaking moment. It’s here where Plunkett comes nearest to breaking down completely, stretching out a hand for guidance, assurance, or even just a small moment of clarity in the fog of uncertainty. The closing moments of “Silt” offer up one of the record’s most haunting moments, an outro that beautifully segues into the painfully gorgeous “Back In Brooklyn”.

Everything that leads up to those two songs makes their back-to-back even more potent, the themes splintering apart into what feels like a million pleas, some from the city, some for the city, some from Plunkett, some for Plunkett’s own well-being. It’s here where Lavender finds its path to becoming transcendental. Those two songs combine to retroactively strengthen the songs that have preceded them while setting up one of the most memorable closing runs of the present decade.

It’s here where the allusions stop becoming guarded and are faced with no hesitation, Plunkett seemingly locked into a white-knuckle grip on the legacy of family, self-understanding, and the trials of knowledge. The latter of the three has one of the more potent dichotomies and that scale is explored through the framing of the former two. It’s that dynamic which makes the final quarter of Lavender so harrowing and so beautiful, the acknowledgment of the necessity of the scars and bruises that allow us to move forward towards our own destiny and towards the same fate that will take everyone we’ve ever loved.

Rather than waist time on hypothetical situations, Plunkett discards them in the service of realism and a commitment to the bravery the bandleader strives for on “Parts”. There’s a dissection of shame and anxiety in that song, one that resonates through to Lavender‘s end, before the tacit acceptance of the fearlessness required to continue existing. By the record’s end the only home Plunkett seems to have is forward motion, abandoning cities, clinging to friends, family, and lovers, doing whatever it takes to find a measure of peace in life’s restlessness.

Lavender‘s final verse acts as a summation of the themes Plunkett can’t escape through the course of the eleven songs and diverts them in a fruitless bid to forget what most of the record has exhausted itself in staring down before its final, heartbroken declaration: I don’t wanna know this/I don’t wanna know how this ends/In the grand scope of things/I know. It’s right then, in that last word, Lavender becomes complete. Not just a record about confronting death, Lavender is a record about the allowances of life, the difficulties that make it harsh, the people that make it worthwhile. In the end, when all is said and done, what’s left is the weight of knowing, and allowing it to sink to oblivion or float just a little while longer.

Listen to Lavender below (and watch a packet of live videos beneath that) and pick it up from CASCINE here.

Half Waif – Back In Brooklyn (Stream, Live Video)

After what seemed like an eternity, Heartbreaking Bravery is returning to regular daily (or near-daily) coverage and this run begins with a recap of the excellent tracks, clips, and full streams that found release over the past two days. On the songs front there were notable tracks from Porlolo, WAND, Lonely Parade, Emma Russack & Lachlan Denton, Bent Denim, Peach Kelli Pop, Numb.er, Quarterbacks, Omni, Phalcons, Llovers, Wax Idols, Eureka California, Tickle Torture, Jack Ladder & the Dreamlanders, Decisions, Mary Lattimore, and Terra Pines.

On the visual front, there were impressive clips that came from Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, A Place To Bury Strangers, CAICOS, stuart A. staples, IAN SWEET, Mike Donovan, and Superorganism. Dark Times, War On Women, Changeling, Leila Abdul-Rauf, Andrew Younker, and Paisley Fields rounded things out with some exceptional full streams. All of those are worthy of investments but none hit quite as hard as the third and final single from Half Waif’s forthcoming Lavender, “Back In Brooklyn”.

Being the first song to be featured after a long interim with sporadic updates, it might seem unwise to break form but the song’s laced with so much personal meaning that I’m breaking one of the cardinal rules of this site and switching to a first person narrative. It’s one of the only ways that I can think of to suit the song’s central premise and its near-confrontational intimacy, which was written about eloquently over at The Talkhouse by the project’s mastermind, Nandi Rose Plunkett.

Plunkett and I shared a frighteningly similar experience of our stints living in Brooklyn, managing to take the city for all its worth, simultaneously, as so many of its expats have done and will continue to do. There’s a sense that its world is a separate one, operating at a more intense velocity than the cities that swirl around its gravitational pull. It’s jarring to come into but it’s easy to accept, instinctively knowing that the best way to navigate its chaos is to completely submit yourself to its constant whims, no matter how painful or uplifting.

Coming to know the city as a home takes some time but once you do, it becomes a part of you that’s impossible to shake. It’s harshness and demand stoking various levels of anxiety and fear, while its open embrace of its residents can provide a warmth that’s worthy of moments of pining. All of this, the endless duality and dichotomies that the city births in anyone that manages to claim it as a temporary home, is painfully evident in “Back In Brooklyn”, which nearly wrecked me the first few times I was fortunate enough to watch Half Waif play it live (one of those instances is captured below).

It’s the most plaintive moment on Lavender — easily one of the best records I’ve heard this year — and it’s the most arresting. Plunkett’s narration across the record’s one of the most unsparingly honest perspectives I’ve come across in recent memory, looking at everything through the lens of someone lost in their own thoughts while the road flies by their van windoes. Sideways glances and subtle allusions are shelved in favor of an intense directness that can occasionally approach the overwhelming, it’s nakedness on full display. Longing and love are its most prominent intersections but they’re anchored by a rare understanding, which can make the material — as is the case with “Back In Brooklyn” — frighteningly real.

During its three-plus minute run time, on every pass I’ve given the song, it’s transported me back to the city, reminded me of all of the things, places, and people I loved, all of the moments with them I cherished, and all of the moments where I felt lost or afraid. It’s an immense work that’s delivered with a well-worn affection and laced with the knowledge that once you leave, its shape shifts and changes, rendering some of the things you held onto unrecognizable. Honest, unflinching, empathetic, and deeply moving, “Back In Brooklyn” isn’t just breathtaking, it’s a small miracle in a minor key.

Listen to “Back In Brooklyn” (and watch a recent live performance of the song) below and pre-order Lavender from CASCINE here.

Three Weeks Down: A Handful of Streams

It’s been a little over three weeks since the last regularly scheduled post appeared on this site. In that time, a whole host of excellent songs have been released. Below is a long compilation of some of the best of those offerings. There will be compilation lists in this vein for both music videos and full streams following this one. Following those posts, there’ll be posts featuring seven outstanding entries that have emerged in that time from each category. So, dive in, bookmark this page, and click around. A new favorite band’s always just around the corner for everyone, it’s just a matter of taking the time to look.  

See Through Dresses, BIRDS, Hater, Elle MaryTrü, Jason Loewenstein, Rips, Mt. Doubt, Livingmore (x2), Amy O, Japanese Breakfast, Mise en Scene (x2), Algiers, James Riotto, B Boys, The Drums (x2), The Last Dinosaur, Human Potential, The Rememberables, Deer Tick (x2), Rose Hotel, Nathan Oliver, A Giant Dog, Grim Streaker, Worriers, Slaughter Beach, Dog, Mardou, Psymon Spire, Suntrodden, Rainer Maria, Tomten (x2), Jack Cooper, The Fresh & Onlys, Lee Bains III + The Glory Fires, Quiet Hollers, Baby In Vain

Dentist, SOAR, Montrose Man, Sharon Van Etten, Absolutely Not, Randy’s Got A Playdough Face, Katie Von Schleicher, Hundredth, Night Click, CHIMNEY, Atlas Wynd, Exhausted Pipes, Tall Friend, Spodee Boy, Delafye, L.A. Witch, David Nance, Spit, New Swears, Sun Riah, Sleep Party People, Manzanita Falls, Pronto Mama, Cheap Fantasy, Susanne SundførRadulaFrøkedal, Jacques Labouchere, Single Mothers, Cody & Danz, Pill, Bien, Frightened Rabbit, Ratboys, Trouble, Low Hums, Michael Nau, First Light

Alex D GoldbergSQÜRL, Ride, Dead Heavens, The Domestics, Nathan Oliver, Milburn, House of Feelings, Modern Crowds, Demure for Sure, Broken Social Scene, Dove Lady, bukowski, Partner, The Big Drops, Kazyak, Diet Cig, Monk Parker, Black Thumb, Face of Man, Blimp Rock, DieAlps!, Fronds, Pearl Earl, Abbie Gale, Trevor Sensor, Great Woods, Best Ex, The Bandicoots, Chris Merick Hughes¡Moonbeams No Mas!, TobaccoJason Isbell and the 400 Unit, Moderate Rebels, Rostam, Fallow Land, Banditos

Hammydown, Institute, Eerie Gaits, Parker Longbough, GILA, Cameron Boucher, The Last Dinosaur, LAPêCHE, The Clientele, Maneater, Holy Wars, Guerilla TossHoneyrude, Superorganism, and Rudy Stone.

Nothing Stops In November: The Month’s Music Videos

November was a hectic month for a lot of reasons, politically and personally. Barely any posts ran over the past 30 days but, as always, the new releases were accounted for as they were unveiled. As December presses towards 2017, there will be a slew of new posts covering the best material to be released in November as well as the releases that appear throughout the month. Before those run, though, there’ll be extended recaps of some of the most exceptional releases in the three major categories (streams, music videos, and full streams). This post will cover the visual end of that spectrum and offers up a wide array of styles. Go exploring. 

Weyes Blood, Methyl Ethel, Ultimate Painting, Small Feet, Silver Rose, Adam & Elvis, The Franklys, Willie J HealeyLA BÊTE BLOOMS, Communions, Rick Rude, Slowcoaches, Landing, ROYA, NE-HI, Lost Under Heaven, Soft Lions, Shellshag, Littler, Mutts, No Nets, The Evaporators, Drive-By Truckers, Bing & Ruth, Leggy, Quilt, Lydia Loveless, Dizzyride, Bash & Pop, Kissing Party, Jamie T, Jeff Rosenstock, Martin Courtney, Thom Hell, Cass McCombs, Lou Barlow, Drugdealer (ft. Weyes Blood), Aathens.

Sammus (ft. Izzy True), July Talk, Howardian, Invisible Boy, The Empty Page, Ricky Eat Acid, Haybaby, Mikey Erg, Hodgy, Rogov, Marchildon!, Streets of Laredo, Pill Friends, Hello Shark, Owen, Bichkraft, Roosevelt, Margaret Glaspy, Clipping., The So So Glos, Joan of Arc, Jesca Hoop, Luke Temple, Lost in the Cosmos, Cut Off Your Hands, Dear Boy, The Molochs, ANOHNI, Monogold, Young Pioneers, Cherry Glazerr, Terra Lightfoot, The Smith Street Band, Waxlimbs, Hero Fisher (ft. Carol Batton), Delicate Steve.

Yael Naim, NONA, BADBADNOTGOOD (ft. Kaytranada), Uni Ika Ai, Vandaveer, Jarrod Milton, Mount Moriah, Jade Imagine, Brodka, Priests, Wolf People, The Severed Limb, and a trio of clips from Chastity.