Sandra Kolstad is a classically trained pianist (whom we’ve praised before), but you might not immediately know this from her newest song, “Haflife.” Although the track certainly betrays the melodic instincts of a creator with extensive formal schooling, it’s built entirely on modular synths and Kolstad’s beaming, malleable soprano. Her next album, Burning Love, is currently in the works and built on these same elements; if “Halflife,” is any indication, the LP will be her best work yet.
“Halflife” is a cinematic, riveting synthpop tune that conveys a sense of exploration in both its expansive sounds and Kolstad’s lyricism. Her modular synths dance around each other as though they’re distinct heartbeats interacting in time, endowing the song with an upbeat curiosity in line with the longstanding canon of Nordic synthpop. As she sings of trying but failing to escape the demons that another person, presumably a former lover, cast upon her, she sounds as fascinated by these devils as she is flustered by their presence.
Across “Halflife,” Kolstad’s voice spans its highest falsetto to its more modest, unimposing portions. The leaps her voice traverses ensure that the adventurous arrangement she’s come up with isn’t missed. It’s difficult to understate how vital to the song the path that her voice forges is; although her instrumentation is deeply captivating, it’s her words and the way she delivers them that imparts the song’s wanderlust.
About halfway through “Halflife,” Kolstad’s voice emerges above about as little instrumental backing as the song ever gives it. She sounds as though she might soon break, so the music does this for her: Its synths collapse and gradually rebuild across a two-minute-plus, extended outro that reduces the backbone of “Halflife” to a minimal, unimposing dance rhythm. The implication is that this bare-bones groove underlies the song even at its most divine and booming. It’s the sort of trick that only a classically trained musician could pull off.