The fancy dress costumes have been put away, and the haunting claustrophobia of Natasha Khan's previous albums Fur and Gold and Two Suns have been traded in for a sound that is cinematic in scope and mature in outlook.
Haunted Man opens with 'Lillies', a song that draws from the same conceptual well as Goldfrapp's Felt Mountain. Khan's ethereal voice hovers above disjointed electronic beats and warm synths that seem to swoop from the sparseness and fragility of the verse to a lush chorus of exquisitely detailed instrumentation.
'All Your Gold' and 'Horses of the Sun' are both songs whose foundation is in percussive rhythms rather than melodic patterns. All Your Gold takes its lead from Egyptian cadence, with its plucked guitar notes and clinking bottles emulating the sense of intense urgency you would find in some of PJ Harvey's bluesier numbers. Horses in the Sun is built around deep syncopated Dhol drums, electronic jitters and backing vocals delivered in an Arabic magam. There is an uneasy and restless quality to this song that harkens back, at least conceptually, to some of the stranger tracks on Fur and Gold.
'Oh Yeah' takes a leaf out of M83's playbook with its epic electronic soundscape dripping with layers of sampled choirs, trip-hop beats and gorgeous twinkling pianos. What is striking about this song is how crisp the production is: with a sound so echoic and vast, it's remarkable that the individual instruments don't get washed away in torrents of reverb.
'Laura' sounds like every angsty-girl-with-a-piano ballad that one could care to hear and seems somewhat at odds with the rest of the songs on the album. 'Winter Fields', in contrast, delivers frosty synths and atmospheric vocals to produce one of the most interesting and accomplished pieces of music on the album.
The titular 'The Haunted Man' is a song that could easily fit onto Björk's Homogenic album, with its insect-click electronic ticks building to a crecendo of rolling snare drums and thundering bass. This is an exceptional piece of music that fosters an incredible sense of intrigue and wonder in the mind of the listener. 'Marilyn' is equally stunning, and echoes the magical feeling of 'The Haunted Man'. Hammering kick drums and electronic hand-claps shouldn't be able to make such a fantastic sound - but they do, and it's wonderful. Khan's vocals in this song are particularly breathtaking, as she allows her voice to evoke raw feelings of emotion. It might not display the warbled vocal gymnastics that we have become accustomed to through shows like X-Factor, but this is soul music as it should be: real and honest.
In 'A Wall', Khan wears the influence of Kate Bush on her sleeve, seemingly drawing the song's rhythm and tone from Bush's 'The Big Sky', but with one important caveat: it does not sound derivative, but rather a subtle homage that acknowledges her musical influences and marks it as her own. Rest Your Head is another excellent piece of music with haunting synths and sparse electronic beats that would fit easily on any Timbaland record.
Album closer 'Deep Sea Dive' is a downbeat electronic offering with Khan's vocals resonating beautifully over instrumentation that would fit easily on Disasterpeace's awesome soundtrack to mind-bending cryptographic platform game FEZ, with its sweeping synths and dislocated beats.
The Haunted Man is Bat For Lashes' most fully-realised album to date. The music has matured and as a result is subtle and surprising. This is a very good album that makes huge steps in securing Natasha Khan's legacy as a unique vocalist and thought-provoking song-writer.
At different times, this is a soaring, subtle, beautiful and powerful album. It is utterly compelling. The production is so sympathetic that to listen to it with a low volume is a completely different experience to hearing it loud.
It is an ALBUM and to sit with it from beginning to end provides a real journey for the listener.
Bat For Lashes has outgrown any comparison to artists past.
Bushims are there if you really want to look for them, but Kate pretty much did it all between 1978 and 1989. Her impeccable work is forever going to be a benchmark for a certain type of female artist... just as The Beatles have been for nearly all bands, The Rolling Stones are for a certain kind of rock band, Bob Dylan for protest singers or singer/songwriters, Black Sabbath are for metal bands, Elton John is for piano playing solo artist, and so on.
The trick is to take what inspires you and rise above it, and take it further. Bat For Lashes has done this. Glorious.
Essentially, the third Bat for Lashes album is a lot like the second, only more so. "Haunting" is a key word that describes the addictive effect of the sounds used to underline Natasha's ethereal vocals. We get a different texture in each song, for instance plucked and muted strings in the first single All your gold, resonating drums in the next track, then bowed string bass in another, or warbling synths or xylophones. These accompaniments are often ostinato, i.e. obstinately repeated for much of the song, but as they have a different kind of sound in each song, they still offer interesting diversity, and often manage to sound mysterious, pulling the listener in by making them curious.
So, well, if you've played Two Suns a hundred times (I have), you may enjoy this even more.
(Oh, and I just love the cover photo to bits. Sadly, the booklet doesn't reveal what happened next - surely she can't have carried that bloke around forever?)
One of the most original singer/songwriters to appear in the last few years, Bat For Lashes is an astounding audio experience. If you like Kate Bush, Tori Amos, Goldfrapp, Moloko, Clannad, Enya, Ladytron or retro 80's electropop like New Musik, The Buggles or Sinead O'Connor you will love this. I came across this artist completely by accident very recently having not heard her previous two albums and was immediately blown away - all three of her releases are ethereal, haunting, astonishing and her fourth album The Bride is out in July. I can hardly wait. A mind blowing, astonishing and haunting experience. Five Stars a definite must buy.
It's high timing for another Bat For Lashes album after three long years - the storytelling lure of Khan's "Two Suns" had started to wear off, and "The Haunted Man" definitely continues on a high note, cajoling as many as 5 different soundsets as 'genre' contradistinctions together in one track, so they form a clean rhythmic sheet: something Natasha always muses in. Journalists may finally start to see Khan as a female artist with her own musical identity, with her own sense of storytelling as a promising entry on the End Of Year 2012 list. Blending her Pakistani ethnic roots into and beyond the trite Kate Bush comparisons, she does more than "running up hills"; rather, you're "running too slow" by the time communication and splendour of this album is over. Piano ballad "Laura" is the real tearjerker, a song of heartbreak where the listener is left to fill in the gaps regarding the pain. That filling-in-gaps is a befitting phrase for what I'll call "occultasms" - the expulsion of emotion at times you don't even have to hear to place. Haunting indeed, and the best Bat For Lashes album, by far, to date.
i must first disagree with the review that accompanies the release of this album which states that the haunted man lacks heart. i couldn't disagree more. i think it has been made with heart and soul.
i first came to know of bat for lashes through the song 'pearl's dream' from her previous album 'two suns' . i saw and heard a few live performances and was very impressed with natasha khan's live work, really very solid and strong work.
i saw the release of this record in october 2012 and began to listen to the odd track hear and there.
then a few weeks ago i heard the track 'the wall' and started to feel myself fall......
this is a great album and seems to have found me at a crossroads in my own life which makes it all the more important. the albums theme of moving forward in life resonates.
she is the next generation of those great artists who have gone before who took their own path artistically.
i can here kate bush, bjork, polly harvey, all artists who did it their own way. natasha plays the autoharp on a couple of the songs, a nod perhaps to the mercury prize winning pj harvery album ' let england shake' ?
highlights for me include 'all your gold', 'laura', 'the wall' and last song 'deep sea diver'
i absolutely love the arrangements of these songs, the production , synth performances and vocal deliveries are something you can really get lost in. the electronic undertones mixed in with the organic sounds and piano are truly beautiful in places ...........can you tell that i like it yet?!
i also like that the vinyl includes a copy of the cd, and i am enjoying a copy of the limited white vinyl myself, which i can play to my hearts content. i am looking forward to diving into the bat for lashes back catalogue after getting 'the haunted man'.
this album is a winner and one i shall be returning to often i feel. :-)
The first offering from Natasha Khan was enough to make you take notice it was a bit raw lacking the polish of a seasoned song writer but left you feeling that there was something special about her and the music she composed the second album showed a maturity and confidence and the signs of a song writer who was going to continue to delight and surprise you in equal measure and then comes the difficult third album the song writers banana skin do you continue to rework your early offerings or do you try to change direction and do something different the beauty of this album is that it does both her voice remains entrancing and engaging but its her lyrics that remain her most powerful weapon seeming to seem so innocent and friendly as they enter your ears but once there invading your sub conscious and putting you in the embarrassing position of being caught singing them when you think no one is around this album is her strongest to date and I love her first two albums she remains for me an artist who's work is a joy to behold and shows no sign of losing momentum or appeal she has delivered the difficult third album with what appears veritable ease and aplomb and her contemporaries eg Florence welch et al must be left wondering how she does it and how they can compete this album should give her stratospheric fame and success it's a beautiful and soul satisfying price of work and deserves to be recognised for that
Sometimes I wonder where some artists pick their names from. Bat For Lashes may sound quite strange, reminding me of Bowling For Soup for the silliness of the name, although their sounds and composition are quite different. Whatever the name evokes for singer Natasha Khan, who came up with it, it's certainly a well liked name in the music industry, with her first two albums both being nominated for the Mercury Music Prize. This gives "The Haunted Man", coming after a three year break since the previous album, a pretty tough act to follow.
What Bat For Lashes has produced here is, apart from a couple of exceptions, an album of ethereal, simple beauty. Whilst I tend to prefer more upbeat and up-tempo works, this is a great album for when you want to do little but sit and contemplate at the end of a tough day or week. With so many nods towards Kate Bush and Portishead, this may not be the most original of albums, but it's certainly a very well crafted one. The 11 tracks and nearly 52 minutes of simple yet effective music offer decent value for money if you like music you can relax to.
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