Bat For Lashes, aka Natasha Khan, returns on April 6th with her sophomore album, Two Suns, a record of such incredible depth and beauty that it has taken me the best part of a month (just ask Luis if you don't believe me) to work this out; it's going to delight and disappoint fans of Fur & Gold in equal measure. Sorry for the anti climax! On the plus side, fans of Natasha's Mercury Prize Nominated Fur & Gold will feel spoilt for choice with the heartrendingly nihilistic vignettes they've come to expect from her. Unfortunately, if fans were expecting a lean towards a more accessible album and for Natasha to get the credit she deserves as an incredible songwriter in album sales, they'll be bitterly disappointed. Of course, this fact is hard to get upset about juxtaposed next to Natasha proclaiming that "Crying took me to the darkest place/And you have set fire to my heart". OK, OK; seems like she might have bigger fish to fry than whether vacuous 14 year old girls are going to be bopping around to her songs at their rubbish parties. Her heart's on fire, for god's sake! And from the general mood of the album, I get the sense that it's not in a Cut Copy-ish "Yeah, my heart's on fire, dude!!!" type of way...
The album begins its reign of terror with "Glass". Natasha's tenderly sung introduction lures you in, before pounding drums herald the beginning of a claustrophobic and frustrated song. When she shrieks the chorus though, it's almost triumphant, as if she's enjoying it. Listen upon listen, however, quickly turn claustrophobia and frustration into a strangely alluring pop song.
It's a story that's repeated throughout the album, leading to an album that's full of gloriously dark and twisted song about love and loss, all interpreted in their own unique way. What really strikes is how this is a true album with a central theme, not just a collection of chart hopefuls, whilst still managing to avoid being samey or mundane. Much credit for this must go to relatively unknown Producer David Kosten, a DJ who brings his electro buzzes and bangs to her songs when needed, and leaves Natasha to realize things as she would herself in equal measure. The result is a brilliantly weighted album with 11 coherent but simultaneously entirely different songs that all capture the imagination and stir up emotion in different ways.
First single "Daniel" is the unequaled highlight of the album. Yes, it's about heartbreak, but it rumbles along with a hip-snapping beat, constantly buoyed by Natasha's catchy lyrics that make it somewhat danceable. A Bat For Lashes first? Quite possibly. Elsewhere, "Pearl's Dream" is a likely contender for single #2 thanks to a concoction of hand claps, violins and, of course, a vocal refrain that's impossible to ignore. "Good Love" is a heart wrenchingly beautiful song, giving the impression that whatever it was that Natasha was looking for, she's found it. She gives the impression of this acquiescence by giving up the furiously urgent lyrical style of the rest of the album, instead opting for a laid back spoken-word style. But oh, she's on fire again! "Your house set fire to my heart". You get the impression though, that this time, as the song ambles along at a pleasant pace, it's a good type of metaphorical fire.
Bat For Lashes has succeeded in creating a brilliantly confusing and unpigeonhole-able album that is welcome relief from the easy going but unrewarding U2-ish standard pop songs. Two Suns is constantly challenging; a fascinating enigma that will embroil many great minds in trying to unravel the psyche of one of pop's most riveting performers. Besides scoring intellectual or emotional points, she has also crafted some of the most hauntingly brilliant pop songs this side of Bjork. Confounding, terrifying and impossible to resist; only one thing's for sure, Bat For Lashes is on fire!
Phil Gwyn is a guest-blogger here at PMA. Read his other thoughts on music at his blog, Not Many Experts