Anyone searching for insight as to Natasha Khan’s ambition on her latest Bat For Lashes album need only take a look at the striking cover image. Fully nude with a male body draped across her torso, Khan is an artist without a mask, stripped of her trademark future-bohemian garb. Echoing a previous image by photographer Ryan McGinley, it preempts the album’s content: laid bare to the world, she still stands confident and strong as a musician.
Having stated that a new found sense of ancestry and return to her roots influenced this album, Khan has somehow managed to create not only her most insular and personal work to date but one that is awash with a visceral grandeur. ‘The Haunted Man’ creates a film’s worth of narrative in its brief 5 minutes, with the opening verse’s insomniac-longing smouldering to a halt before the march of a male harmony builds intensity, she returns to declare her loyalty: “still I’m holding out my hand/ Standing by my haunted man”. Thematically, it’s the album’s touchstone – beginning in the most personal of spaces before erupting into a dramatic orchestral backing.
Although admitting to having more “jubilant, overwhelmingly ecstatic” songs here than on either Fur And Gold or Two Suns, the dramatic pop she has created still treads the edge of darkness in places. ‘All Your Gold’ belies its betrayed heart with a playful bass-line; ‘Horses Of the Sun’ begins with dark staccato drums and deep haunted vocals, bursting into a bright chorus accompanied by deftly strummed guitar. Even when she veers into melancholic balladry for ‘Laura’, with its sparse accompaniment of piano and strings, there is a restorative hope in the lyrics: “you’ll be famous longer than them / your name is tattooed on every boy’s skin / oh Laura, you’re more than a superstar”.
It is opening track ‘Lillies’ that provides the album’s most celebratory moment. Ethereal is an adjective that circled her debut and second album, but it is only here it seems truly apt. With damp electronic kick drum and bass sitting snugly beside swirling strings and ending in a joyful “thank God I’m alive”, it creates a sense of re-birth: she has moved her music forward and in a new direction.
While there are no instant hits like Two Suns’ ‘Daniel’, here Khan has delivered yet another fantastic selection of songs. Lyrically and musically complicated, she has created an album that signifies a new path for her as an artist without eschewing her previous work.