Following on from 2006’s Fur And Gold, and 2009’s Two Suns, both of which were Mercury Prize nominated, innovator of British music, Natasha Khan has made an expectedly triumphant return with Bat For Lashes’ third album The Haunted Man. Disenchanted and uninspired after the breakdown of her relationship and the end of touring Two Suns, the album is the result of a quest to once again discover her roots.
Fronted by striking album artwork, The Haunted Man is an album of empowerment and symbolisation. Through the album Khan has delicately woven a theme of the importance of being, from the sparse, hissing ballad ‘Lillies’ – inspired by the 1970 film Ryan’s Daughter – where she wails “Thank God I’m alive!” to ‘Laura’ where the album crescendos to the moment she cries “You’re the glitter in the dark / Oh Laura, you’re more than a superstar”. The album’s cover prominently displays the theme of empowerment, representing women taking the burden of the mistakes of men, with a naked man slumped over her naked body. Khan plays the caring figure for The Haunted Man throughout the record as she embodies a maturity of womanhood which was just out of grasp in her previous efforts.
Jittery ‘Winter Fields’ is warm and inviting as synths and samplers tinkle away, whilst ‘Horses Of The Sun’ begins with foreboding, militaristic percussion, before flourishing into a joyously satisfying chorus. ‘Oh Yeah’ demonstrates Khan’s poetically playful songwriting ability with themes of hope and lust intertwined, singing “I am hope / And I’m open-eyed”. Guided by vivacious synths and scaling pianos, this feels like an extension of Two Suns which is an engaging, enigmatic sound.
The album’s most immediate highlight is ‘Laura’ which was co-written with Justin Parker who also co-wrote Lana Del Rey’s ‘Video Games’. Dainty vocals accompany a sparse combination of chords and gentle riffs from a piano which swell to create a powerful and impassioned chorus. It’s honest and universal as she sings about the world’s loneliest party girl, who could be anyone, but in this case is her best friend. Meanwhile, ‘All Your Gold’ tells the story of being forced to choose between a ‘good’ man and a darker evil. A percussive force drives the song with autoharp, a staccato guitar riff and experimental techniques such as the tapping of forks against glasses of water, giving the track an idiosyncratic edge.
The record is intricate, with absolute attention to detail, without being overbearing and excessively produced. It’s inspiring and brimming with an inquisitive energy, without being pragmatic. It’s Bat For Lashes’ most mature record to date, but still seeps spirit and truth. The lyrics are condensed and have been scrupulously chosen to make the purest of music with undeniable honesty. This album is a masterpiece to match her two previous records. Bat For Lashes is one of this country’s most captivating talents.
Bat For Lashes will perform at the Portsmouth Pyramid Centre on Saturday 3rd November. Tickets are on sale now.