Bat For Lashes has been my favorite artist of the past five years or so. The project of 33 year old, British singer/multi-instrumentalist, Natasha Khan, it combines piano, strings, cymbal-less drums, synths and atmospheric electronics with Khan’s lilting, flexible voice and strong songwriting. The truth is, no one else sounds like Bat For Lashes. (Apart from Fur and Gold’s “Tahiti” which does bring Tori Amos to mind.) Over all, she is remarkably unique.
Khan, who was an art student, also has a distinct look and style that light up her music videos and photo shoots. Pakistani and white, she has unusual good looks as well. The cover of her new album The Haunted Man, in stark contrast to the others, shows her nearly naked, but it’s not as surprising when you learn that it was shot by Ryan McGinley. The image is after the jump for very slight NSFW reasons.
2006’s haunting Fur and Gold and 2009’s danceable Two Suns are both excellent, so I’ve been eagerly awaiting her next release. The Haunted Man proves to be darker and moodier in many ways; her lyrics are more personal and direct, especially on “All Your Gold” and the title track, which deal with recovering from a painful break-up. As fantastic as Two Suns is, one could argue that Khan was getting a little carried away with mysticism, alter egos and fantasy lyrics. The new album retains those elements but with much more subtlety. There might be fewer immediately singable melodies than before (“Marilyn” is a strong exception), but the epic contrasts of swelling strings and orchestrated beats mesh so well with her vocals, that it works in a different, still very compelling way. With each new listen, it gets better and better.
The tracks that first stood out were “Winter Fields” and “Marilyn”; the former has an exciting, building feeling throughout that is very cinematic, and then there is an abrupt ending that makes me want to hit repeat immediately. It makes fantastic use of strings and electronics as mentioned above. “Marilyn” starts off slow and then morphs into a beautiful chorus that calls to mind one of Two Suns‘ best tracks, “Glass”. Khan’s voice is pristine and revelatory when she climbs up into those high notes. There is also a bridge that spins off into fantasy land for a moment with child-like voices calling “yoo-hoo”. Another thing Khan excels at on all her albums is intriguing back-up vocals.
“Lilies” is sweetly magical, sad and lush, with a throbbing chorus. It’s followed by the angular, anxious beat of “All Your Gold”, which is a great contrast. The chorus has the smart line: “I let him take all my gold and hurt me so bad/so now for you, I have nothing left”. “Laura” is a ballad with just piano and vocals, and a Broadway-esque melody that settles in to stay. “Rest Your Head” is a return to the danceable 80s feel of Two Suns, and it’s easy to see that one will be spectacular live.
Bat For Lashes should not be missed live, that is for sure. She is touring in Europe and Australia next, but hopefully she’ll be back in the U.S. soon.