At the tail end of February, I found myself crying while mopping the floors of a coffee shop I tend to alone every weekend.
It was a compound of things. Anxiety, hopelessness, loneliness; the store’s pale blue walls; the overcast sky; the smell of bleach and sanitizer. All the while, I let Half Waif’s latest record – The Caretaker – keep playing in the background.
When Nandi Rose sang, “I meant what I told you: it’s different now, your pain is mine to know,” I found tears cresting under my eyes. How could it be so easy? It’s devotional, a mantra that’s as simple as it is sacred. These words are etched into “Siren,” the second track off the album, a song so sure of itself it leaves you blushing, overwhelmed with tenderness. The clock ran faster than I could dry my tears, so I closed up shop.
Unlike its cold, misty predecessor Lavender, the sounds comprising The Caretaker are fuller and more saturated. Rose writes in the eyes of the titular character whose duties seem to escape her, meandering through memories of friends and lovers instead. She walks a tightrope between distance and intimacy, synthetic and organic. With each step, The Caretaker gives you a little more.
Come March, I’m still. I sit in a room that doesn’t take nearly as much effort to clean. Like The Caretaker, I stay in and ruminate. I take stock of which trees are growing back their leaves and what colors the sky sets to in the evening.
In these desolate last few weeks, my conversations often circle back to summers I took for granted, ones I thought marked the end of the world. Rose looks over her shoulder in a similar fashion with “In August,” despite a ghostly warning not to:
In April, I felt capable
I didn’t need you here /
Eclipsed back into summer
God, how has it been a year?
Penned to a lost friend, her wistful voice trails the changing of seasons, and bursts at the notion of how long it’s been since it last felt normal – I’m not so sure either.
“Come March, I’m still. I sit in a room that doesn’t take nearly as much effort to clean. Like The Caretaker, I stay in and ruminate.”
At the heart of this record is an amorous summer. “Lapsing” falls right in the middle, painting the image of a humid summer evening. A bright synth pitter-patters over the distant buzz of crickets. It is slow cooling as the pulse begins to overwhelm and the turbulent, blue clouds hover over. It stretches out, sticky and syncopated. When the sun sets, the only option is to sink into the darkness.
In the months leading up to The Caretaker’s release, Rose shared notes and journal entries via newsletter. Like “Lapsing,” her summer is vast and animated. She remains placid and receptive, a storm looming around the corner just the same. “In my heart, I am always reaching for that summer evening,” she writes.
“I can only chalk up to its momentum, each verse motivated by an action: saying goodbye, changing names, learning to love and coming home.”
Self-sufficiency – the kind you only come to with deep intuition, introspection and isolation – percolates all over The Caretaker. It is most tangible in “Generation,” the penultimate track. There’s a mystic quality to it that I can only chalk up to its momentum, each verse motivated by an action: saying goodbye, changing names, learning to love and coming home. These are gestures made with care. Rose is aware that she has yet to master her independence – “And I’m learning to love the woman in me” – but keeps pushing. In a hushed voice she declares, “I am my own generation.”
Half Waif makes music that is effortlessly kind, but just as easily turns those warm, loving sentiments into scary and daunting ones. They naturally are, anyway – when you love this much and want to be better, for yourself and those around you.
With that, I find purpose in my stillness. I can’t look past this month of rain. So, in the meantime, I’ll keep still, listening and looking back on those summers.
Alex Ramos is an artist and writer from the San Francisco Bay Area. Outside of writing for Slumber Mag, they manage Sunstroke Magazine as Editor-in-Chief. They’re happy being subpar at the guitar and writing about people who play it better instead. They’re @lexmramos on most corners of the net, including their website.