One of the most enigmatic musical performers of the modern era, Bat For Lashes – a.k.a Natasha Khan - is an artist in every sense of the word. Khan creates sonic masterpieces to portray the depth and range of her influences to whoever is willing to embrace it – and she can count such recording artist royalty as Thom Yorke, Bjork, Beck and Debbie Harry amongst her dedicated fans. A multi-instrumentalist, her voice is pure and her philosophy unique – she is a musician and composer of the highest order. Bat For Lashes first dazzled back in 2006 with Fur and Gold, and universally stunned with the magnificent 2009 follow-up Two Suns – both receiving Mercury Prize nominations in their respective years of release.
Khan took an extended break prior to beginning work on this her third studio album, The Haunted Man - extensive worldwide touring drawing to a close coupled with the end of a trans-Atlantic long-tem relationship left her drained, both emotionally and creatively, and in dire need of time for reflection. Pursuing an assortment of alternative activities in the interim rejuvenated her creative flow and the results were first unveiled in mid July with the revealing of the album artwork - which was, in fact, VERY revealing in itself. Khan, staring intently into the camera lens, naked, with nothing but the limbs of a man draped across her shoulders to hide her modesty. It certainly was, and still is, striking. Equally striking was the preview track which was released in conjunction with the artwork to herald the announcement of the album’s October release date - the beautifully crafted ‘Laura’, co-authored by Justin Parker of Lana Del Rey’s ‘Video Games’ fame. Its beauty is in its simplicity, a lone piano plays out the backdrop to an impassioned range-traversing vocal delivery from Khan, before a delicate horn presence creeps in towards the end. ‘Laura’ is timely reminded that underneath the wealth of production layers we’ve grown accustomed to from Bat For Lashes lies one incredible voice - without a doubt a standout track of the record.
There’s stiff competition, though – highlights on The Haunted Man are certainly in no short supply. From the offset, ‘Lillies’ sets the bar, booming bass and synthesised strings permeate the melodic tones of Khan; subsequently the almost sinister-sounding lead riff of latest single ‘All Your Gold’ compliments her delicate purrings to perfection before a massive chorus kicks in. ‘Winter Fields’ is deceptive in its introductory passage – moody panpipes and swirling orchestration paint a picture of a dramatic ballad, but instead what we end up with is a beat-laden percussive delight. ‘Horses of the Sun’ is another percussive powerhouse of a song – it’s the drums that take the lead alongside Khan’s vocals, accompanied by the plucking of a single guitar string unwavering in note, before a minor to major shift for the chorus sheds some light on the dark undertones of the track. The militant percussion which accompanies the ghostly chanting breakdown on the album’s title track ‘The Haunted Man’, building towards a thrilling climatic chorus, is too worthy of praise. ‘A Wall’ picks up where ‘Daniel’ left off in the vein of anthemic dance-pop – although perhaps not possessing the Ivor Novello plaudit potential as its predecessor.
The Haunted Man should mightily please the Bat For Lashes faithful, opening up new avenues of discovery in her sonic landscape. A further advancement of the creative prowess of the ever-captivating Natasha Khan, it’s a brilliantly compelling body of work, and definitely one of the more interesting albums you’ll listen to this year.