Review Summary: It's time to get enchanted
Let’s talk about Natasha Khan, the woman at the center of Bat for Lashes. She is a multi-instrumentalist, singer/songwriter from London. She has a large interest in the matters of the heart, as seen through a rather mystical, poetic lens. She has been nominated twice for the Mercury Prize for her debut and sophomore records, Fur and Gold
and Two Suns
, respectively. She is a visual artist in her own right. She has recorded a powerful duet with Scott Walker, a feat not every artist can say they have achieved. And yet still the most common thread in reviews and press for her newest LP, The Haunted Man
, is the freakin’ cover. Yes, she’s naked. Yes, so is he. Now can we move on?
Good, because the music on this album is excellent. On Two Suns
, it seemed Khan was suffering from divisive identity disorder, inventing an alter-ego named Pearl to wreak havoc on her aggressors. She was sort of like a spiritual Film Noir version of Khan herself. And while the split personality was really not overtly obvious outside of the occasional namedrop (“My name is Pearl and I’ll love you / The best way I know how / My blond curls slice through your heart”) or one song title (“Pearl’s Dream”), it could have been seen as a gimmick. But gimmick or not, that was one staggering piece of work. It covered a lot of stylistic and topical ground while always coming up with new ideas.
Something that is evidenced by Two Suns
is that Khan works at her own pace. The majority of those songs are over four minutes and take their time to develop. Khan also does not always write bridges for her songs – in fact, on some of her best songs (“Daniel,” “Siren Song,” “What’s a Girl to Do”) there are no bridges. She sings verses and choruses at a speed of her desire and it is always enough. These songs don’t need bridges. This is evidenced again in her new album, The Haunted Man
, which lets its songs unfurl in their own time, in much less ornately-adorned fashions. Khan has said this album came after a long bout of writer’s block. But thank goodness she found her muse again, because this is her best album yet.
deserved its Mercury nomination more than her debut did, but this LP might be the one to win it for her. Beginning with what is arguably her strongest song yet, "Lilies," she sets the tone for the entire album. Processed beats, subtly insistent guitars, strings, horns, meticulous programming, and let’s not forget Khan’s ever-impressive voice. On this song especially, Khan proves she is one of the best singers in her field right now. Starting off softly and alluringly, the song peaks in a glorious shout of “Thank God I’m aliiiive!” That line acts as a mission statement for the album as a whole, as it concerns itself with matters of life, love, sexuality, and compromise.
When “All Your Gold” kicks off with that incredibly catchy muted guitar riff, it is cemented that this is going to be a fabulous 50 minutes – that, by the way, somehow always sustains the high created by “Lilies.” Probably her catchiest song since “Daniel,” the single follows the aforementioned no-bridge structure, unless you count the instrumental at the end. Actually, a few of these songs eschew bridges in favor of extended musical intros or outros (“Winter Fields,” the astounding title track) but the songs do not suffer as one might expect them to. It is true that “Winter Fields” may have benefitted from an extra chorus, but the flute-and-string intro is just such an impossibly pretty moment. Similarly, “Horses of the Sun” with its shambling, tribal drums and elated chorus of “You and me, we’re wild and on the run / Busting out the heavens like the horses of sun” extends to five minutes with very little filler despite lacking a proper bridge.
This is not a perfect album, but it does come mighty close. There are no songs that feel like they should have been excluded, although there are a couple moments that are less interesting, such as “Rest Your Head.” But it’s not too detrimental really, and on an album with songs as gorgeous as “Laura” or the gently pulsing “Deep Sea Diver,” and lyrics as potent and noteworthy as Khan’s, it is exceedingly easy to overlook a couple flaws. Yes there is that nagging Kate Bush influence, but who cares? In a time where it seems almost every slightly-quirky female artist is labeled as being inspired by Kate Bush, it doesn't even really matter anymore. But this is without a doubt Bat for Lashes’ best album yet. This album is full of catchy, smart melodies, and it has a certain restrained patience that her work always has that makes it so worth repeated listens. The album, despite its multitude of guests, is her most pared down-sounding effort.
So maybe the cover is actually important after all – the nudity represents a nakedness that is more subliminal, more emotional. As she sings on the title track, “Still I’m holding out my hand / Standing by my haunted man / Yes your ghosts have got me too / I can’t run.” The picture says it all.
Best Tracks: Lilies, All Your Gold, Laura, The Haunted Man
Final Score: 4.6