The Haunted Man
On Bat For Lashes’ third album, Natasha Khan doesn’t diverge too much from the formula that made her first two records critically acclaimed. The British singer-songwriter’s latest effort, appropriately titled, "The Haunted Man," carries the same ghostly sounds and vocals "Fur and Gold" and "Two Suns" were jam packed with. But this time around, Khan’s lyrics are much more personal unlike the fairytale themes she drew upon in the past.
The cover art says it all: a black-and-white photo shows Khan naked and vulnerable (with a naked man wrapped around her body) and tells us that we are in for an intimate 50-minutes of music.
Khan proves that she has grown up since 2006’s "Fur and Gold" where we found the multi-instrumentalist chanting about ghosts, wizards and bats. Even on her impressive follow up "Two Suns," the signer said the album is "a record of modern-day fables exploring dualities on a number of levels-two lovers, two planets, two sides of a personality" and "the philosophy of the self and duality, examining the need for both chaos and balance, for both love and pain, in addition to touching on metaphysical ideas concerning the connections between all existence."
But on "The Haunted Man" Khan said her family and her family’s history inspired her, which gives the recording a raw and touching feel.
Opening track "Lilies," sets the album’s mood: "Again tonight I sang a song/ a prayer if you will," she coos over a slinky guitar and smoky strings. "Begged the thunder bolts to strike and mark me as alive," she continues before the song explodes with booming and jarring synths. "All Your Gold," the following track, is also brilliant thanks to its heavy guitar riff where Khan sings, "Because you’re a good man, because you’re a good man/ I keep telling myself to just let go/ there was someone that I knew before/ a heart from the past I cannot forget."
But the record’s centerpiece, "Laura," the lead single from "The Haunted Man," is easily the album’s best song. Khan shows off her chilling vocals over a whisper piano melody that delicately flows through the track. The songstress belts out "Oh Laura, you’re more than a super star/ and in this horror show/ I’ve got to tell you so/ Oh Laura you’re more than a superstar," on the track’s chorus over a hush horn section that perfectly nuance’s Khan’s pain. "You’re the train that crashed my heart/ you’re the glitter in the dark..."your name is tattooed on every boy’s skin," she sings about the mystery woman.
This isn’t the first time Khan dedicated a song to an anonymous soul. On 2009’s "Two Suns," her most impressive track and single was called "Daniel." At the time, the blogosphere was buzzing with who this man could be. Turns out it was an ode to Daniel LaRusso, the character from the film "The Karate Kid." But with "Laura" it seems the singer is being a bit more candid as she has yet to reveal the woman’s identity. Some critics, however, have speculated she is singing about Laura Palmer - the teen that was tragically murdered on the cult classic 90s drama, "Twin Peaks."
Other standouts include the album’s title track, where Khan’s smoky and sensual vocals dance behind marching drums and dazzling synths and "Marilyn" a song dedicated to none other than Marilyn Monroe.
But "The Haunted Man" comes with its share of clunkers, such as the bland "Winter Fields" and "A Wall," which is about a minute-and-half too long. The closing two tracks, "Rest Your Head" and "Deep Sea Diver" aren’t terrible but there isn’t enough of a switch up to separate them from other cuts, like "Oh Yeah," or "Horses of the Sun."
Khan shows she is developing as an artist and is easily able to mesh art-rock with indie pop while her voice oozes of Kate Bush influence and 80s dramatics. Her lyrics are more focused and transcendent but "The Haunted Man" isn’t her magnum opus. It is clear though, that she is only a few records away from creating something that will not only move listeners, but also astound them.
"The Haunted Man"
Bat For Lashes
CD and Digital formats