2017 is shaping out to be an exciting year for music. A prime example is the EP, form/a from Half Waif. This 6-song, 19-minute album is some of the most honest, melodic, and artistic pop music you will hear this year. Half Waif is the solo project of Nandi Rose Plunkett. She is best known as being a member of Pinegrove, but for this EP, she took the plunge of being not only singer and songwriter, but producer as well. While there are a plethora of examples of this kind of work leading to self-indulgence, Plunkett as Half Waif finds balance and a beautiful musicality that remains a fevered dream for most.

When it comes to the point of form/a, it’s about the self and the Self. Plunkett describes it best, “These are songs of self, but not self in a vacuum, romanticized into isolation; rather, self as it is given form through interactions with other people and with the physical environment. It is a step towards bringing abstract feelings into a concrete world, so that we may better see each other.” Plunkett utilizes her vocal prowess to navigate the electro-pop compositions in search for the Truth of her self and Self.

This album is a rarity in that when you begin to think of the songs that stand out, you find yourself climbing a never-ending ladder; each track has something different and builds upon itself from the others. While everyone will have their favorite, in a strictly critical sense, no song outshines the others. In this case, it is a very good thing. So let’s dive into each track.

The album opens with ‘Severed Logic’. Ambient atmospherics are a slowly dissipating fog while synths mildly sound off like trumpets. Plunkett opens the EP singing, “I’m so aware of all my moods/ all my moods around you/ What if I remove/ what if I remove myself from the action?” Off the bat, Plunkett tells the listener of the depths they are going to explore to better understand herself in relation to the world at large. The music then slow builds and brings in a dancing riff and tight, yet wily beat.

Then comes ‘Wave’ and the immediate mood changes. A bass note is hammered on a synth and drags you to the next destination. A syncopated horn-like synth line is layered on top. It is a forced march that balances unease with excitement. Then once the vocals come in, there is a back and forth with that pulsing beat disappearing, giving a sense of relief, only to have it come back again propelling the song. ‘Wave’ is a prime example of layers being used purposefully.

Track three is ‘Magic Trick’. It is all atmospheric and choral tones, awash in a cloudy sea. Plunkett even laments, “The strangest part/ is when you look at me/ I dissipate like foggy in the morning/ time.” It explores the pains of not being able to be anything other than yourself, not matter how hard you try to be what your partner wants.

And out of nowhere, comes ‘Frost Burn’. A raspy synth arpeggio slowly fades into nothing and then builds back to suddenly disappear with the introduction of a piano line, drums, and one of Plunkett’s most well-crafted melody lines. This song plays with structure and layers, once again showing her prowess as not only a songwriter but producer. She knows when to emphasize and when to pull back, showing just how underutilized dynamics are used in popular music. And not just the basics of loud versus soft. This is about energy, intent, highlighting the push and pull that is naturally there but is often forgotten.

Track five, ‘Night Heat’ opens with the lyrics, “I’ll follow you forever so you’re never gone/ Breaking up is out of the question.” She then sings about trying to get away from this pain eating at her but she’s “not sure what I’m after”. Anyone who has ever been in love knows this feeling all too well. And what elevates her take on this clichéd concept is that she does not over-analyze through forced poetic lyricism. She finds a way to use everyday language to communicate emotions that are already complex enough- we don’t need seemingly astute observations spelled out to us through superfluous language chasing after the feeling rather than facing it head on.

The album closes out with ‘Cerulean’, my personal favorite for the time being. There is no intro to this song. Her vocals and sustained keys played on the downbeat start the song off pat. “My mood has no form/ it sits on my chest heavy and warm/ My mood is not an invited guest/ takes over my body and gives me no rest”. I leave the lyrics at that because this song deserves to be fully enjoyed through listening, not my quoting. ‘Cerulean’ works as a bookend to the concept of form/a. It doesn’t claim to have found the answer but comes back to the original question of finding the self in relation to others. The apt composition and Plunkett’s vocals navigating the trenches of the melody stirs something in the recesses of your chest that you often try to ignore.

Plunkett as Half Waif conquers on form/a. While the subject matter is heavy, the album is not inherently depressing; it’s not “happy,” but it is definitely not depressing. Truths are meant to be uncomfortable. While Plunkett’s voice lulls you into submission, the songs do not hide their agenda. Art - even commercialized art - should make you question and look inward. Plunkett successfully takes that one step further plunging into those caverns, asking how this affects the world around us. Plunkett doesn’t claim to have the answers, the journey she takes the listener on in form/a is beautiful and necessary.