Album Review: Half Waif – ‘The Caretaker’

Posted: by The Editor

Much has been written about the self-care movement and what truly constitutes improvement. For Nandi Rose, who performs as Half Waif, self-preservation took the form of retreat. After touring extensively in support of 2018’s Lavender, a work of sentimental and haunting indie pop, Half Waif was becoming a critical player. Despite seeing her career build more than ever before, Rose felt the need to take a step back. On her new record The Caretaker, the thread of nurturing ourselves, as well as those around us, gleams through like sunlight peeking through grey clouds. 

On the album’s opening cut “Clouds Rest”, Rose speaks openly about the need to slow down. She summons the spirit of Kate Bush both in her dramatic tendencies and in the lyrics, “I’ve been running uphill / And still no view / Try to keep in mind / To be kind to my only one body.” Whether or not this is a direct reference to “Running Up That Hill”, the sentiment of making a deal with God goes hand in hand with the grueling sacrifice an up-and-coming musician must face: the exhausting reality of touring. 

On “Ordinary Talk”, meditation when making hard decisions in interpersonal relationships is used as a means of bettering our lives. In this case, whoever Rose is singing to is holding her back: “I’ve got places in my mind / that I’ll never find / If you’re holding my hand / Like you always do.” This is by no means a confident tell-off. The track builds as Rose plans aloud all the ordinary things she’ll do while wondering if her choice was the right one, from folding laundry to walking to the lake. Made all the more powerful by her velveteen voice, the song is a cinematic display of everything Half Waif excels at. 

Rose is a master at making subtle sonic choices with profound impacts. On “My Best Self”, her voice is pitched just low enough to make it sound foreign. Perhaps this is a meaningful way to project strength by hiding vulnerabilities behind a mask. The lyrics tell a story: trying to make one conform to others’ ideas of what a “best self” might look like, both on a personal level and in relationships. We are left with a chanting refrain, “be the one you wanna be.”  Rose’s technical skills are particularly showcased in the record’s back half. Halfway through, we find one of its most understated gems in the form of the “Lapsing”, a fluttering and calm syncopated instrumental track. Her ability to build a castle of icy synths and drum patterns throughout the record makes it feel like there’s a chill in the air. 

On the touching “Generation”, we see Rose look back but also inward. Grappling with turning 30, she finds herself in a new space personally as well as artistically. She references dropping her surname from her professional name and casts aside speculation that it’s for any reason other than personal choice. Despite the melancholy tone in both her voice and the keys of her piano, this is not a lament—this is a self-affirming anthem, albeit with its head cast down: “Shouting at clouds / I’ve done enough now / And I’m coming home to myself.”

The Caretaker is, by some measures, a concept album. It carries through with consistent themes and ideas rather than storytelling or narrative, though the title itself comes from a character Rose built up during the writing process. This is not an album interested in the surface level of things. It is not your friend promising that taking care of yourself manifests in face masks or bath bombs. Instead, it advocates looking within. Using what we find as our compass. Dragging our flaws up from to the surface and exercising them.


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Eric Bennett//@seething_coast