Album Review: Bat For Lashes – ‘The Haunted Man’

Music is predominately a man’s world, when people list the greats they usually say Lennon/McCartney, Dylan, Presley, Mozart. Add to that the sexist ideology of the rock star and hip-hop lifestyles (groupies & “bitches”) & it’s not all that difficult to appreciate that female artists go against the current to a certain extent. Singling female artists at the beginning of this review doesn’t exactly solve the problem; if anything I’m setting women against men in a manner which fortifies the division. However, I would counter that we need to cherish our standout female artists because they seemingly only emerge once in a comparative while.

Natasha Khan a.k.a. Bat For Lashes is one such female artist to have recently emerged, her music has drawn comparisons to Björk, Kate Bush and PJ Harvey, however, I would also throw M83, early-Depeche Mode and Rounds-era Four Tet into the mix as well. Bat For Lashes has carved out a definite niche for herself, she has become recognised as an artist who uses a range of instruments in her compositions; Vocals, Piano, Harmonium, Autoharp, Vibraphone, Marxophone, Phonofiddle, to name but a few. To describe her music as incorporating elements of Baroque Pop is like saying Death Grips are loud – it’s something of an understatement.

Khan’s first album, Fur and Gold, embodied a lot of raw, yet imaginative ideas, Khan was laying the foundations for her sound, songs like ‘Horse and I’ and ‘Prescilla’ combined the grandeur of an orchestra with the simplicity and direction of Dream Pop. Her sophomore effort, Two Suns, took a more refined approach to the ideas already established by Fur and Gold. Standouts such as ‘Moon and Moon’ and ‘Pearl’s Dream’ demonstrated the breadth and versatility of the songwriter, as well as her ear for powerfully emotive songs. Detractors focused on the clear influence of Björk & the chaste delivery of her music, but I can’t help but feel this is rather simplistic and ignores the fantastic atmosphere which separates her music from others.

Her music also has more crossover appeal than it is often given credit, each of her previous albums have been nominated for The Mercury Music Prize & I can’t see why The Haunted Man won’t be as well. Middle-of-the-Road appraisal aside, Khan’s music does add an inherent pop focus to the more abstract instruments and textures used in her work. I still maintain that fans of Florence + the Machine would find just what they were looking for if they decided to venture into more experimental waters.

She traverses the genre of Art Pop masterfully, blending just the right amount of experimentation with catchy hooks to ensure that her audience are eased into the musical ideas she is toying with. A prime example of this comes in ‘Marilyn’ a Chamber Pop gem with an ethereal chorus with one of the most bizarre bridges of the year, quite literally this song goes from the sublime to the ridiculous.

My favourite track on the album, ‘Laura’ finds Bat For Lashes at her best, when she’s disarmingly emotive and fragile. A soft piano progression runs throughout the song under an even softer delivery from Khan; “Laura you’re more than a superstar/ You’re the train that crashed my heart/ you’re the glitter in the dark”, at 32 & still struggling to achieve widespread success I can’t help but feel this  song is semi-autobiographical.  The song never really picks up beyond a light canter, but it never needs to, as the emotion weight of the song is the work so dramatically on display here.

Ultimately, Bat For Lashes is an artist who I feel is sorely ignored, her work has perpetually been on the cusp of breaking through to the wider audience her music deserves, but never quite makes it. Her work is delicately composed and combines multiple musical ideas without coming across as overtly intellectual or inaccessible. As a female artist, Khan makes a bold statement with the cover ofThe Haunted Man; she stands naked with a man draped across her body to protect her dignity. Khan uses the album to undermine the objectification of women, especially nude women; “No make-up, no Photoshop, really archetypal. It’s sad that it’s safer for women’s bodies to be shaved off, photoshopped, lip glossed and sexualised. Women are presented as this unattainable ideal”. It’s a superb challenging of the depiction of women in mainstream media & serves to demonstrate the identity which has come to define Bat For Lashes not only as a woman, but as an artist and a musician.

Ben James

Ben is listening to Godspeed You! Black Emperor – ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!

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