I first saw Bat for Lashes supporting Radiohead at Glasgow Green a number of years ago. I think it was in support of her debut album 2006’s ‘Fur and Gold’. At the time I was completely sucked in by her performance – such was her stage presence – compelling and engaging, a woman lost completely in the moment.
Now, on album number three, it sounds as if the brilliant and captivating Natasha Kahn very nearly ditched the music world altogether to focus on her previous life as a teacher. Thankfully, the decision was to continue on her musical path and the result? A record as rewarding, engaging and enriching as Portishead’s ‘Third’ was upon its long awaited release. This is a triumphant follow up to 2009s ‘Two Suns’ and raises questions as to why we so very nearly lost this wonderful talent from the world of music. Skilled as I’m sure she is as a teacher, it really would have been a tragic loss.
Anyways, now is not the time or place for discussions about the whys and what ifs but to discuss the wonderful new record ‘The Haunted Man’ released so very recently, yet, due to the album art it feels like this record has been around for much, much longer. The stark, stripped image suggests much more than just the naked form. There is a purity and honesty to it that I imagine touches on all the reasons Kahn so nearly gave up on music and yet hammers home why she kept going. It also relates beautifully to the less extravagant sound adopted on the record. The music still flirts with unadulterated mainstream pop but there is enough edge and diversity to put this album firmly in the alternative bracket. And it’s the combination of haunting beauty with out and out danceability that makes Kahn such a fascinating musician.
There is nothing simple about the music on offer (though as mentioned it is less extravagant than its predecessors). This is, at times, dense, at times, complex, at times, challenging, but never short of creative juice. Something that sets Kahn apart is her willingness to experiment. To take a risk. To be something that nobody else is. And it’s the unforced and natural ease with which this record flows from beginning to end that puts it above her others as a stand out work. Key tracks include single ‘All Your Gold’, ‘The Haunted Man’ and ‘Marilyn’ but it really is hard to pick proper stand outs from an album packed with quality.
Naked on the front cover. There is nothing to hide her modesty other than a naked man draped over her shoulders and precariously positioned. Perhaps Kahn felt that this record is equally stripped and bare, much like the stunning ‘Laura’. Opening her soul and not hiding behind alter egos. This is brave. This is challenging. And for want of something more eloquent – this is fucking great.
Six years on from her debut and Bat for Lashes continues to push the boundaries. To challenge herself and grow. Let’s hope the music is always this hard for her to create because it’s clear that such challenges yield fantastic results.