Monday 15 October 2012

Bat For Lashes - The Haunted Man

Nude, untouched and shot in black and white, the cover art for 'The Haunted Man' presents a striking image for the return of Bat For Lashes.  What's most striking though is not the nudity, but the contrast between the fantastical imagery of her previous albums and the raw nakedness on display here.  Beneath the costumes and the make-up, this is the real Natasha Khan - but does the music match?

What's always been most interesting about Bat For Lashes' output is her creativity in instrumentation.  Her mix of unusual instruments and electronica, the archaic and the modern, creates an air of timelessness in the inventive production.  Only on a Bat for Lashes record would you see a combination of a medieval male choir with ghostly synths, as on title track The Haunted Man.

Yet the most arresting track is Laura, the album's centrepiece.  Following Daniel from 'Two Suns' with its first-name title, Laura proves that piano and voice alone can provide all the drama you need, Khan's more confident vocal the focus of the track's spellbinding appeal.

As a whole, 'The Haunted Man' is a stripped back, honest and more human album.  Gone is the alter ego from 'Two Suns', the feathers, the headband, the extraneous trappings.  Perhaps Khan was afraid of becoming a caricature of herself and has shied away from the 'bigger is better' approach of follow-up albums and movie sequels - a brave choice.  But isn't stripping things back a cliché in itself?  In the process, Khan has lost some of her creativity, with an album that smooths the edges of her experimentation.  This is certainly her most accessible album to date.

Her unique brand of mystical disco is still present though.  The percussive All Your Gold slowly builds its layered production towards a richly textured chorus.  Towards the album's end, the duo of A Wall and Rest Your Head are Khan at her pop best.  And experimentation is still rife: Horses of the Sun galloping along in a rush of freedom; Oh Yeah a heady brew of dry drum thuds, languid pools of synths and erotically charged vocal melodies.

The end result is a far more consistent album than in the past, but one that lacks the edge and sparkle of 'Two Suns' highlights Daniel and Glass.  Khan may be keen for us to see and hear the real woman, but it's her creativity, experimentation and sheer weirdness that have made her music so appealing.  It's these elements that have been somewhat stifled on 'The Haunted Man', but her unique sound is still as exciting as ever.  As she sings on opener Lilies "Thank God I'm alive" - the UK music scene would be far less interesting without her.


Gizzle's Choice:
* All Your Gold
* Laura
* Rest Your Head

Listen: 'The Haunted Man' is available now.

Watch: Khan is touring Europe throughout Autumn.