Bat For Lashes: The Haunted Man
- The most successful of that crop of singer-songwriters from the last few years - the ones who're all touched up with loads of gothic mascara that is - Natasha Khan, the Bat For Lashes, she's back and judging by the album art of The Haunted Man at least, she's scrubbed all the make-up (and everything else for that matter) right off. Nudey perviness aside, this is, as it turns out, a neat analogy for the approach she's taken to her songcraft on this third full-length.
A lot of the songs, especially on it's opening half are stripped back, the cans of reverb left unopened on the shelf and, in their place, raw honesty of sound and lyrical intent. The darkness and melancholy of Bat For Lashes has always kept her electro-pop from sliding into Eurhythmic territory, but, it's funny, the (comparative) absence of studio artistry leaves me feeling more than ever like I'm hearing echoes of Annie Lennox. Still, Annie has always had a bit of the bloodless, androgynous, quasi-goth (they're likes Visigoths, look it up) thing going on and, to do justice to Khan's new approach, a song like the much lauded Laura is so emotionally raw it bleeds.
That sparse simplicity bonded with such devestation pushes into the territory inhabited by PJ Harvey's experimentations over the last decade and if it's not the destroyer that is Let England Shake, Polly Jean has made plenty of less effective turns before arriving at that mighty and burning landmark. Besides, Bat For Lashes has her (bitter, ashen) cake and eats it too, because The Haunted Man doesn't abandon more fleshed out sounds. Take the album's title track, it whispers to life but, on the back of a dancing snare builds into - of all things - a driving folk-march and from there to a great synth-rock climax, complete with an accompanying trumpet fanfare: inspiring stuff.
That's hardly traditional Bat For Lashes fare and I found that I was thankful that her shadowy electro-pop stylings - on some great songs like A Wall, sneaking in towards the end - make an appearance too. Oh man, can I put in a late vote for album closer Deep Sea Diver, too? Floating dreamily into ringing piano and bells with Khan singing along like a seraph. I've said this before but, if that doesn't move you, you are probably dead inside. The Haunted Man is an intriguing record. It balances the need for artistic growth with some great tunes and also the things that the Bat For Lashes audience have come to expect. There's a lot to like here.
- Chris Cobcroft.