Review: Bat For Lashes – The Haunted Man
Published on November 19th, 2012 | Jonny Abrams
Though it apparently required a phone call to Thom Yorke to ask for advice on how to tackle her “profound writer’s block” – he suggested drawing, as it happens – Natasha Khan’s third album as Bat For Lashes is as nakedly honest and nakedly ambitious as you may glean from its cover.
Khan has also said that The Haunted Man is inspired in part by her father, who left suddenly when she was 11 years old and who trained the Pakistani national squash team, including her cousin, the six-time world champion Jahangir Khan. Such remarkable background would be in danger of overshadowing the music itself were it not for the frequently dazzling soundscape to have resulted from it all.
There seems to be a big demand at the moment for female-fronted synth-pop that elicits such adjectives as ‘brooding’, ‘glacial’ and ‘sensual’, all of which might be dismissed by cynics as “the Bjork-lite brigade” or some such. Fortunately, Bat For Lashes veers more towards the kind of dark tribal sound found on Tu Fawning’s A Monument LP of earlier this year, and furthermore it delights by dashing the notion of ‘saminess’ thrown up by the spectral atmospherics and heaving electronic low-end of the opening few tracks.
Fourth track “Oh Yeah” hints at the ensuing variety by dint of some unexpectedly odd touches, before piano lament “Laura” blows proceedings wide open with shifts in dynamic that, while not difficult to pinpoint once they’ve arrived at their various peaks and troughs, slip consummately through the net with their subtle transitions. “Drape your arms around me and softly say / Can we dance upon the tables again?” sings Khan, furthering the desire for reassurances presented beforehand by “All Your Gold” (“I get home and there’s a love note waiting / But only he is here tonight / And the words, the promises you’re making / Only echo all these lies / And for every sweet nothing you whisper / Why is goodbye my reply? / ‘Cos you’re a good man, ‘cos you’re a good man / I keep telling myself to just let go”), and it’s all sufficiently stirring to defy comparison with Florence and her insipid minions.
“Winter Fields” takes on a dramatic landscape equal parts electronic and organic – unless of course that string section and crashing timpani were digital recreations – and this serves as an effective microcosm of the album as a whole. The title track slips out unexpectedly into marching drums and male vocal chanting, while “Marilyn” shimmers, shudders and thuds underneath the twinkly sky of its own conjuring, throwing in an unexpected application of gloopy synthery and redoubling the surprise with a bout of creepy children’s noises that could be straight off Aphex Twin’s Come to Daddy EP.
“Where you see a wall, I see a door” we are informed on the Bjork-ish-of-cadence “A Wall”, perhaps explaining this album’s quirkier moments, but there’s little surprise to the embracing of Kate Bush on the ensuing “Rest Your Head”. For the most part, The Haunted Man sounds rather as you’d expect it to, but this doesn’t detract from its beauty or its ability to catch you off guard at regular intervals; as loathe as we are to end on a cliche, it’s evolution not revolution.
Rocksucker says: Three and a Half Quails out of Five!
The Haunted Man is out now on Parlophone. For more information, please visit www.batforlashes.com