Bat For Lashes – The Haunted Man
Bat For Lashes mastermind Natasha Khan has been away for a bit. After 2009’s Two Suns, the melancholy, and gorgeous, singer/songwriter decided to take her time writing Bat For Lashes’ latest work, The Haunted Man. While Khan has included a bit of the open and languid orchestrations from her previous work, The Haunted Man is a fully scrubbed, detailed and polished album. This isn’t the work of the younger Natasha Khan who belted “What’s A Girl To Do”, this is the poised work of an artist coming into her own.
The name of the game on The Haunted Man is arrangements. Everything that happens here happens for a reason. The turgid and stuttered rhythmic patterns of “Lilies”, is peppered with fuzzy bass thumps and dancing keyboards. The kindred spirit between Khan and PJ Harvey comes across with “All Your Gold”, which has that same stocky rhythms and thick acoustic vibe of Harvey’s 4 Track Demos or Dry
“Horses Of The Sun” uses seamlessly timed tribal drums against an electronic snare that holds down what Khan’s doing vocally. I like when she drops the register a bit, especially when she backs it up with a creepy backing chorus. “Laura” is one of the best songs on the entire album. A despondent look at a fallen star being assured she’s worth more than she ever knew, Khan uses dry piano and keyboards to frame the tragedy of the song. This tune has opening or closing credits for a film written all over it.
In each song Bat For Lashes focuses on something different. The stirring use of percussion on “Winter Fields”, the lush backing vocals and epic musical passages of the title track, and the electronica break-beats coupled with Khan’s high vocal register on “Marilyn” are examples of this. Only the last track, “Deep Sea Diver” really puts multiple things into play allowing the focus to be Khan’s voice.
As bold as The Haunted Man is musically, the lyrics paint just as epic a picture. “All Your Gold” is essentially about a woman who has a good man she can’t bring herself to love because of someone from her past. The line-delivered-as-mantra, “But you’re a good man/but you’re a good man/I keep telling myself to just let go” is simultaneously universal and personal. In “Laura” the opening words “You say that they’ve all left you behind/your heart broke and the party died” communicates instantly the peril of the protagonist. Throughout The Haunted Man, Khan uses her words just as perfectly as her music to paint portraits of love, loss and confusion.
Where trouble comes into paradise is the detachment. I’ve been a long time fan of Bat For Lashes but I’ve always felt that Khan stands just outside her songs, as if they were something given to her instead of coming from her. It’s nothing that effects how good The Haunted Man is, nor does it take away the power and ability of Khan’s voice, but it does keep the power of these tunes, and Bat For Lashes across the board, from being fully realized. The Haunted Man is so carefully put together that, at times, it feels cold and impersonal. Outside of that, this is another fabulous journey through the artistic and musical ideas of a tremendous talent.