Generally in life, the things that we least understand are the things that intrigue us the most – some of us anyway. David Lynch’s films, Lee Evans’ popularity, Paul Galvin’s dress-sense.
I came upon Bat For Lashes – aka Natasha Khan – after the release of her second album, Two Suns. Lead single Daniel received some airplay on Irish commercial radio, providing some welcome respite from hearing Sex On Fire fifty times a day. So, having never been one to ‘wait til I hear the next single’ before deciding to buy an album – a policy which has seen me amass quite a number of duds over the years (The Hives, I’m looking at you) – I rushed out and bought Two Suns, along with its fellow Mercury-nominated predecessor, Fur And Gold. I wasn’t disappointed.
Of the above, Two Suns was far more accessible and several tracks (Pearl’s Dream, Daniel, and Sleep Alone) very quickly found themselves being played ad infinitum.
Fur and Gold was an entirely different proposition. None of the tracks jumped out as potential singles. I bought both albums just prior to a sun holiday in Greece and subjected my two fellow revellers to countless plays of the albums during hungover mornings and afternoons. Neither one would be considered particularly broad in their musical tastes, outside of what they hear on the radio, but both preferred Two Suns’ synth-driven hooks over the more obscure sound of Fur and Gold with its harpsichord opening and use of other abstract instruments as harmoniums, autoharps and vibraphones.
However, after several listens I found myself liking the debut album as much, if not more, than it’s slightly more conventional – relatively speaking – sophomore sister. Fur And Gold’s content – both lyrically and musically – transports its listener to a mythical place. Strewn throughout the lyrics are references to wizards, drinking blood and dancing horses. Not conventional subject matter, sure, but coupled with the heavy use of the aforementioned instrumentation, one could imagine Khan performing for King Henry VIII in the seventeenth century, possibly followed by a jester who may be needed to lighten the mood.
Two Suns was a departure away from this, with synth-driven beats more to the fore. Still though, many of the lyrical themes of Fur And Gold remained. Knights in crystal armour, battles in distant kingdoms, and the emergence of an evil alter-ego named Pearl all served to maintain Khan’s penchant for painting a vivid and rich picture which had the listener reaching for the lyrics booklet in an effort to get a handle on what exactly was going on. It didn’t always produce answers, but that’s part of the attraction.
So comes her third offering, The Haunted Man. It’s clear from the initial listens that this is continuing in the same vein as Two Suns. The electro-beats remain, as do the somewhat intangible lyrics. Present also is the subject of being with a man who doesn’t quite, despite Khan’s will, fill the void in her heart after a former lover ‘hurt me so bad’ and ‘turned my heart black’ (All Your Gold). A similar tale was told on What’s A Girl To Do – a track on the debut album.
Laura and All Your Gold are the two lead singles off the album, the former being a piano-led ode to a lady who, it would appear, is struggling to come to terms with her diminishing fame. All Your Gold is a far more up-tempo, radio-friendly track. Oh Yeah would appear to be the leading contender for the next single, should there be one, with its hypnotic choral intro and catchy beats.
Fans of Khan will love the album, and they cover a broad spectrum. At a live show two years ago in Bristol, the crowd was made up of 40-something hippies with stars painted on their faces, seventeen year-old Peaches Geldoff-lookalikes, and everything in between. It’s a testimony to Khan’s material that it is impossible to pin down. Her lyrical content is so ethereal that it can be interpreted in many ways, thus holding a larger appeal than, say, a band singing about birds and booze and other flogged-to-death musical clichés.
It was a stunning performance, one which I hope I’ll see again in the not too distant future – though as yet there is no Dublin date listed on the tour schedule on Khan’s website.
I’m still not sure I understand where Khan gets her ideas from, or what the all the lyrics signify, but let’s keep it that way, eh Natasha?