Bat for Lashes first captured hearts way back in 2006 with a set of distinctively haunting and darkly phantasmagorical songs ripe with magic realism. Two Mercury Music Prize nominated albums, the atavistic, reverb-drenched Fur and Gold (2006) and 2009’s universally acclaimed Two Suns, re-affirming Natasha Khan as a unique song writing talent and one who is paving her own way. Bat for Lashes returns with her long awaited third album The Haunted Man via Parlophone on October 15th. Produced by long time collaborator David Kosten and newly appointed Dan Carey, the album features a mixture of electronic beats and swooning ballads backed by an orchestra recorded at Abbey Rd. studios.
The title track is one of the album’s two pole stars. Khan sees it as the record’s ‘godfather’, representing the trauma of loss and miscommunication (with the other being the more hopeful ‘Lilies’, exploring creative resurgence, love and sensuality). ‘The Haunted Man’ is an overwhelmingly lovely song, poignant and ghostly, but with a strong restorative charge and was inspired by David Lean’s movie ‘Ryan’s Daughter’, which is set in 1916 against the backdrop of the Irish conflict. This was one of several songs she worked on with Rob Ellis, when they and other players decamped to a house in Perugia last summer, and it involved projecting massed male vocals across a canyon with an amp, then recording the slapback – a sonic metaphor for the men returning over the hill from war.
2. All Your Gold
3. Horses of the Sun
4. Oh Yeah
6. Winter Fields
7. The Haunted Man
9. A Wall
10. Rest Your Head
11. Deep Sea Diver
“Two Suns is set to make Khan one of 2009’s stars… a fantastic package”
4/5, Observer Music Monthly ‘album of the month’
“An extraordinary, devastating album that haunts like a dream and cuts like a knife”
5/5 Sunday Times ‘Pop CD of the Week’
“An album that really is quite exceptional” 4/5 Telegraph ‘Pop CD of the Week’
“This is music of a higher quality, the work of an artist communicating meaningful ideas, superbly realised and delivered… Big up Batty girl!” 4/5 The Mirror ‘CD of the Week’
“A sensationally assured return” 4/5 The Times
“Two Suns is the sound of an artist on the cusp of something very special”
4/5, Mixmag ‘album of the month’
“Two Suns is an intoxicating, addictive album, a step up from Fur And Gold and a leap into a galaxy of its very own” 4/5 Q
“Two Suns is fantastic as well as fantastical” 4/5 The Guardian
“It’s obvious that her star is rising” 4/5 News of the World
“Two Suns is a brilliant pop album… epic in scope and ambition, If this year’s Mercury panel know their arse from their Elbow, this could be her time” 8/10 NME
With her dazzling second album, Two Suns, Bat For Lashes was back to assume the mantle of the most dynamic and intriguing pop performer in the UK.
Natasha Khan’s debut Fur And Gold was nominated for the 2007 Mercury Music Prize, and earned two Brit Award nominations for Best Breakthrough and Best Female in 2008. The album’s blend of spooky childhood reveries and magical piano balladry caught the imagination of everyone and not just in the music world. Natasha was feted by the fashion crowd, appearing everywhere from Vogue to Dazed & Confused and she recently collaborated with Alexander McQueen’s McQ label on several one-off pieces featured on the Two Suns artwork. As if that weren’t enough, Bat For Lashes has inspired the making of a fantasy film-musical based on the songs from Fur And Gold . Natasha went on to be chosen by The Guardian as one of 2007’s women of the year – the only musician to appear on their list that year. Bat for Lashes was also asked to support Radiohead on their European tour last summer at the band’s personal request, where she assembled a new live band to explore fresh musical forms, before heading out to New York and the Californian desert to write what has now become Two Suns.
A very ambitious record, from the dustbowl psyche-rock of ‘Travelling Woman’ to the twisted Las Vegas wedding organ on the dark love song ‘Good Love’, Natasha has taken influence from disparate places. Written and recorded around the world, from the stark landscape of Big Sur and the Joshua Tree desert in California to the city sprawls of New York and London, it is kinetic and immediate, yet so intriguing sonically and lyrically that it demands time to be properly absorbed.
Natasha is joined on several tracks by Brooklyn’s finest psychedelic experimentalists Yeasayer, who provide bass and beat programming. The legendary Scott Walker also performs a duet with Natasha for the heart-wrenching torch song and album closer ‘The Big Sleep’. As with Fur And Gold, Natasha chose to co-produce Two Suns with David Kosten (AKA Faultline).
We begin with ‘Glass’, the opening track that encompasses the story behind Two Suns, a fable depicting two archetypal lovers coming together and pulling apart like two planets. ‘Two’ is a recurring theme throughout the album: two planets, two lovers, two extremes of a personality, two landscapes… This reflects in the sonic choices Natasha made on the album – combining opposing styles, the old and the new, the electronic and the organic. As ‘Glass’ unfolds and primal beats hammer away at Natasha’s defiant vocal, we can hear Bat For Lashes’ sound has evolved to create a lush and rhythmic new world. ‘Sleep Alone’ continues this theme, combining a nagging acoustic riff with dark disco beats and Natasha’s spooked falsetto vocal, “My mama told me / the dream of love is a two-hearted dream”.
The album pace is brought down a notch with the sumptuous lovers’ ballad ‘Moon And Moon’. Debuted during the Fur And Gold tour, the track became a live favourite and was performed on the BBC Culture Show. Beautifully recorded, the simple, lush piano melody paired with Natasha’s silky vocal yearning over long distance love and the pain of separation is a startling reminder of her effortless knack for straight-to-the-heart songwriting.
‘Daniel’, the first single to be taken from the album, is more light-hearted as Natasha sings of teenage love and nostalgia, as if she’s writing the soundtrack of her 16 year old self. With layered vocals and twisted synths, it’s an exhilarating pop moment, powered by Yeasayer’s Ira Wolf Tuton who can be heard playing the Fleetwood Mac-style bass lines.
Starting life as a demo, ‘Peace Of Mind’ was secretly recorded while Natasha was messing around with guitars in the studio with Ben Christophers. An all-black, gay gospel choir from New York was added (looking like Prince backing-singers from the 80s and sounding like a ramshackle Persuasions) transforming the song into a bold and courageous choral chant, calling for peace of mind to all her beloved.
The climactic ‘Pearl’s Dream’ was inspired by Natasha’s time spent living in Brooklyn on and off for the last two years. After programming a tougher city-beat, Natasha spent a day with Yeasayer in the Magic Shop studio in Manhattan, where Chris and Ira added Michael-Jackson-circa-Quincy-Jones era bass lines and off-kilter percussion. One of the most danceable tracks on the album, ‘Pearl’s Dream’ has an incredibly addictive hook that shows how easily Natasha can turn her hand to pop’s alluring fairy dust should the mood take her. Bat For Lashes’ cult stardom is unquestioned – pop stardom, though, is tantalisingly within reach.
The powerful, hypnotic and psychedelic ‘Two Planets’ is one of the more experimental tracks on the album. Cementing Bat For Lashes as a constantly evolving artist and pushing the boundaries of expectation, the track was borne of listening to a lot of early Herbie Hancock’s synth experiments and Dead Can Dance. A cosmic call to arms that strongly conveys the vastness of the desert, the expanse of the sky and the struggle to experience connectedness, even in times of pain; “I am one of two planets dancing, I am the never ending life, and you are not separate from me, you are my mirror”.
Scott Walker joins Natasha for a duet on the final track, ‘The Big Sleep’. It is the last we see of Pearl as the final curtain is called and she hangs up her dress forever. It describes the death of Pearl and symbolically, the death of the world of illusion. It’s a darkly camp and theatrical performance to end the record. Having imagined Walker’s voice on the track from the moment it was composed, Natasha sent it to him almost as a dare to herself. Spectacularly, he returned the favour and added an emotive vocal, perfectly ending this complex story.
Fur and Gold was the debut album from Bat For Lashes, the nom de plume of singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and visual artist Natasha Khan. Born in 1979, yet combining influences that span decades, Natasha’s work dwells in the elemental, emerging in timeless forms.
Her debut single, ‘The Wizard / I Saw A Light’, was released in May 2009 via the Drowned In Sound Digital Singles Club and as a 7” on Natasha’s own imprint, She Bear Records. It instantly sold out, due in part to her captivating performance at the All Tomorrows Parties Festival in May, where Bat For Lashes was invited to play by Devendra Banhart; they managed “to transform the room into witching hour in a small central European forest” (NME), becoming the unexpected hit of the weekend.
Little wonder she had such an impact. Bat For Lashes’ music is bold and vivid. Her live shows, with accomplices Ginger Lee and Abi Fry, are made up of thunderous marching band drums, desert guitar, ballet school piano, harpsichord, sub-bass snarls, hand-claps and naive beats. There are also interludes of exquisite heartbreak – the piano ballad ‘Sad Eyes’ has on more than one occasion left audience members in tears.
It was whilst working as a nursery school teacher, following her university degree in film and music, that the album opener ‘Horse & I’ came to Natasha in a dream. Inspired by tales of Joan of Arc, Natasha is woken by a black horse at the window and sent on a fateful quest…
This extraordinary dream became the muse for the songs that now comprise Fur and Gold. Recorded in London and Brighton, Natasha co-produced the album with David Kosten (Faultline). Recurrent themes of natural forces and animal kingdoms, rugged English cliff tops and engulfing oceans – highlighted on the lament ‘Seal Jubilee’, are juxtaposed by the energy of rough urban living, teenage bedrooms and the freedom of California highways.
Josh T Pearson (Lift To Experience) guests, adding guitar and vocals on three tracks – the brooding live favourite ‘Trophy’, ‘Seal Jubilee’ and the finale ‘I Saw A Light’, adding the kind of hymns and chaos that only the son of a preacher could provide.
The work of an artist with a distinct and complete creative vision, Fur and Gold is unlikely to be forgotten in a hurry. Debut albums like this are scarce, and very special.
Having spent parts of her childhood in Pakistan, Natasha Khan now lives by the sea in England… where she regularly follows her dreams.
- Horse and I
- What’s a Girl to Do?
- Sad Eyes
- The Wizard
- Bat’s Mouth
- Seal Jubilee
- I Saw a Light