Natasha Khan’s The Haunted Man is wired with a perplexing undergrowth of sound which speaks to, and for, maturity itself; either within Khan, others, or purely the sound.
Synthetics gives Khan’s work an inclusive feel, it’s an album to play alone on a good pair of speakers; it’s quirks often make this too much for a casual listen or background fodder. ‘Marilyn’, for instance, is evasive, bold and telling; it’s epic structural qualities as pertinent as Khan’s voice, but an outlandish cry of ‘yoo-hoo, yoo-hoo’ seems to get in the way somewhat of an easy listen; even if we accept this is a complex song.
This complexity is felt throughout the album, as the producer pushes boundaries of minimalism, although never by use of a simplistic framework. All this intelligence often fought to keep my interest, and only partially won.
The first half of this work is a proud assertion: uplifting, vocally bold and tenaciously rhythmic. I can imagine it translating well live. It’s a shame the latter five tracks tail off into a thematic and musical experimentalism of which is hard to relate.
Single ‘All Your Gold’ and intro ‘Lilies’ are brilliant pop songs, displaying a thumping presence. ‘All Your Gold’, particularly, begs to be screamed in a drunken stupor, it flits somewhere between Florence Welsh-ian catchy splendour and something entrenched in rock-pop history; far beyond its’ years, something prestigious.
Much has been made of the, admittedly, striking cover of Bat for Lashes’ The Haunted Man, which features an un-retouched Natasha Khan standing nonchalantly, naked save for the equally bare man draped over her shoulders. Her hair is short and the photograph is black and white, the embellishments of Two Suns and Fur and Gold notably absent.
The music contained therein has been lauded, too, as a ‘stripping back’ of sorts. This is true to an extent, but not in the ‘acoustic-guitar-female-vocals-only’ way that such a description might suggest. True, Khan’s usual sound is noticeably restrained and simplified on the second single, “Laura”, where the raw emotion of her vocals shines against spare backing instrumentals. But, elsewhere, in true Bat for Lashes style, this record weaves together seemingly incongruous elements to create a lush and richly textured whole.
Rather suitably for an album that took root in the garden of the infamous rural retreat of the Bloomsbury group, the sonic landscape evoked by Khan’s arrangements is undoubtedly the English countryside, with images of brooding men appearing over the crests of hills, crisp, frosty fields and even the inclusion of panpipes at the opening of the brilliant “Winter Fields”. Yet, this aesthetic is infused with electronic experimentation. In “Lillies” a heavy synth beat cuts across the breathy vocals, strings and dreamy, electronic echoes and, in “Marilyn”, my personal favourite simply for its playfulness, lushly layered vocals and soaring choruses are combined with the electro gurglings and “yoo-hoos” of modern-day hedgerow sprites.
So is this a simple, uncomplicated album? No. However, whereas previous albums could feel a little over-stuffed, with elements fighting for attention at times, The Haunted Man sounds plush and full, but utterly effortless.
Bat For Lashes ‘Haunted Man’ feels like Khan’s most coherent record yet, with raw emotion always bubbling under the surface.
It opens with the triumphant ‘Lilies’, which dances and sparkles out of the speakers. With its euphoric chorus, existential lyrics and steeple high vocals, it feels like Khan is rejoicing and it’s hard not to join her.
It’s ‘Laura’ though which was the lead single choice (co-written with Justin Parker of Lana Del Ray ‘Video Games’ fame). While it has a sweet charm, I much prefer the fiery emotion of ‘Winter Fields’ or the galactic grooves of ‘Rest Your Head’ or as for reasons stated above the opener ‘Lilies’. Though I don’t think any of the tracks on the album will be able to reach the lofty heights of Ivor Novello winning song ‘Daniel’ from ‘Two Suns’.
At times on ‘Haunted Man’ Khan ditches her usual preference for complex song structures and leaves you with the raw power of her vocals and melody. Whereas at other times you are back, lost in that fuzzy Bat For Lashes shrouded soundscape, with Khan’s lyrical directions as ambiguous as the music.
I was going to end with a funny quote from my mate Dave about Bat For Lashes, but he seems to have vanished so I can’t ask him. We were meant to meet down ‘The Horses Head’ a couple of nights ago but he never arrived. I asked the barman if he had seen him and he told me a mad capped story about some naked woman who burst into the bar just before I arrived, grabbed Dave and threw him over her shoulder like cotton hanky, downed his pint, turned and stared dead faced towards him and then ran out the door with Dave dangling over the back of her like a wilting flower. I don’t know what to believe but if you do see Dave or have any news please contact this site. Thanks.