It's like climbing a long velvet rope sewn with golden charms and jewels. That description sums up the experience of listening to Bat For Lashes (aka Natasha Khan), even in her lesser songs. And fortunately "Two Suns" doesn't really have any lesser songs -- just a steady stream of painfully exquisite, crystalline pop that focus on the feeling of love that's gone.
"In the street's broadways I seek... him whom my soul loveth," she sings softly in the introductory song, before switching to a mix of tribal drums and wafting keyboard. .
After that, she spreads out into a string of love songs -- in fact, this entire album is pretty heavy on those. Most are bittersweet descriptions of an affair falling apart ("I drove past true love once, in a dream/Like a house that caught fire, it burned and flamed"), but there are some beautifully idealistic moments as well.
Along the way, Khan dabbles in some stompy synthy dance, a hymnlike freak-folk ballad backed by a choir, and the warmly off-kilter "Traveling Woman," and a finale that evokes old wooden stages, toy pianos and an old theatre being shut down ("No more spotlights/coming down from heaven... and already my voice is fading/goodbye, my dears/and into the big city...").
Fortunately she doesn't abandon her signature sound, which is that of an old fantasy story mutating into a beautiful, slightly wicked dream -- swirling pop, haunting piano ballads, the soaring and unnerving echoes of "Siren" and its synth-studded companion "Pearl's Song," ethereal melodies swathed in shimmering keyboard, and the exotic sweet danciness of "Two Planets." But the absolute peak of the whole thing has to be "Daniel," an catchily effervescent ode to a man with a "flame in his heart."
One of the biggest questions that comes to mind when listening to "Two Suns" is -- why is the music industry flooded with no-talent pop hacks, when such exquisitely vibrant music is right there for the listening? It's an album with stunning vocals and instrumentation, and lyrics that evoke images of forests on fire, magicians, crystal cities, and an alter ego Khan calls Pearl (who is either a femme fatale or a fantasy traveler).
Khan's music is, if possible, even more beautiful than before, mainly because she's managed to polish the instrumentals even further. In most songs she weaves together a shimmering wall of hauntingly silky keyboard with drums, violins, sharp beats and painfully pretty piano, but sometimes she also pares it down to the bare essentials ("Peace of Mind").
But Khan's voice is one of the loveliest things in this album -- she can sing powerfully or wistfully, and she even shows that she can manage a song almost a capella ("Peace of Mind" again). Her songwriting is even better: she can conjure powerful emotions with vivid swathes of words ("I drove past true love once, in a dream/Like a house that caught fire, it burned and flamed"). It's almost sensual.
"Two Suns" is a lush, lovely album that shows how much Natasha Khan's music has grown in the last year, and reminds you of the dark, beautiful places just out of reach.