Imagine walking through a forest flooded by golden light, full of mystery and magic, and the sorrow of things that are fading away.
That's sort of the atmosphere of "Fur and Gold," the debut album by Bat For Lashes. The Brighton band -- really a one-woman band for Natasha Khan -- churns out a stream of shimmering, dark, fantastical chamberpop that sounds like the halfway point between Feist and Joanna Newsom.
It opens with the dreamlike "Horse and I," with its throbs of harpsichord and marching military drums (a Jeanne D'Arc influence?). "Got woken in the night/by a mystic golden light/My head soaked in river water," Khan murmurs, sounding both desperate and sleepy. "The smell of redwood giants/A banquet for the shadows/Horse and I, we're dancers in the dark/Came upon the headdress/It was gilded, dark and golden..."
It rises into a desperate plea, as "The children sang/I was so afraid I took it to my head and prayed/They sang to me, "This is yours to wear/You're the chosen one, there's no turning back." The song swells and falls, with Khan murmurs painfully, "There is no turning back/there is no turn..."
Khan does try out some more conventional songs, like the darkly minimalistic "What's A Girl To Do," a haunting, dramatic lament about a fizzled-out affair. But even then, she includes some unique phrases ("And my bat lightning heart/Wants to fly away"). And then there's "Sad Eyes," a painfully loving post-breakup song ("Keep my love as light as a feather").
Then she regains some of that more magical sound, with songs about powerful wizards, black snow, beautiful wild girls who die or grow up, centaurs, haunted forests. It finishes with the exquisite "I Saw A Light," a piano ballad that briefly swells up into a musical storm.... right before Khan says softly, "And I said goodbye."
The music industry doesn't turn out much music like this -- pop music that relies on sensual instrumentation and brilliant songwriting, rather than jiggle or computerized vocals. Fantastical forests and seas, tropical islands, lovelorn urbanites, and magical horses all somehow weave into this -- it's like a long, beautiful dream.
It also has pretty unique instrumentation -- much of it is harpsichord and strings, but there's also plenty of military-style drums, cymbals, some mellow electric guitar, trumpet in places, and a shimmer of autoharp. Khan weaves the sounds together expertly into a dark, lush, velvety tapestry that sounds like the work of a longtime professional.
And somehow it doesn't seem surprising that her vocals fit in perfectly -- she can do husky, soaring, a childlike singsong, or the half-spoken chant of "What's A Girl To Do?", where she seems to be almost conversing with the listener. Often she's backed by a ghostly, sensual chorale, which sounds like her own voice.
"Fur and Gold" is all darkness, gold, feathers and twilight -- a stunning, musically lush, lyrically exquisite pop album. Despite the odd name, Bat for Lashes has genius.