Bat For Lashes – The Haunted Man LP
Natasha Khan’s third LP comes after a busy two years in the making, after she first announced she was writing it back in May 2010. In that time she’s managed to squeeze in collaborations with Beck as well as covering Depeche Mode's 'Strangelove' for a well known perfume manufacturer's advertising campaign. Now she’s back with her new record which promises rich layers and innovation from the former Music & Visual Arts student.
Oh… and she's posed in the nuddy on the album cover. Shock value box ticked.
Initially, and unfortunately, this promised innovation appears to be lacking on opening track, ‘Lilies’. Yes, Khan’s occasionally ethereal vocals impress as always, but the turgid electronic beat and forced sense of drama in the chorus unfortunately come across as nothing more than ordinary. ‘All Your Gold’ injects a classic disco groove into the album, but still fails to stand out and portrays a surprising and disappointing lack on invention from Khan.
Finally, however, ‘Horses of the Sun’ represents an improvement. Carried by driving drums and possessing an all-round darker feel, it sounds a lot less blasé than the two tracks preceding it. The improvement continues on ‘Oh Yeah’, where electronic drums support the multiple layers of sound to create by far the most interesting track on the album thus far. Natasha croons seductively as the song roams about in a hallucinatory fashion, rendering it captivating.
Lead single, ‘Laura’, is a sensitive piano ballad that sees Khan – who possesses a voice that can convey emotion in startlingly raw fashion – in her element. Indeed, it is her vocals that set the mood here, from gentle whispers that implore you to lean in closer, to passionate declarations of “ooh, Laura, you’re more than a superstar,” that sound half-tear choked, and will likely have a similar effect beneath your eyelids.
It represents a watershed moment; after starting with a bit of a stall ‘The Haunted Man’ is now vigorously moving through the gears as it reaches the exhilarating ‘Winter Fields’ and the atmospheric title track. The latter contains an interlude about a minute and a half in that is pure theatre, a tantalising build-up of drumming and chanting climaxed in goosebump-inducing fashion by Khan’s powerful vocals, which act as an astounded exclamation mark at the end of a riveting passage of prose.
By the time tracks such as ‘The Wall’ and ‘Rest Your Head’ have put shallow pop-pretenders such as Marina Diamandis firmly back in their place with their effortless cool and dancability, The Haunted Man has sent the listener on a journey through a broad emotional spectrum. Anticipation was greeted with despair initially, but this quickly transforms into hope and finally admiration when you realise that The Haunted Man is certainly an impressive and accomplished pop record.
Perhaps the best way to approach this album is to follow Khan’s own advice on closing track ‘Deep Sea Diver’ – “let your hair down, it’s time to get enchanted.”
Words by Lewis Parker (@AnIdealLewis)