Bat for Lashes – ‘Two Suns’
June 30, 2009 § Leave a comment
Published: The Vine, June 9, 2009.
Natasha Khan pushed all the right buttons on her 2007 debut. From the outside, Fur and Gold was a masterstroke of indie marketing. The pieces – the glitter, the feathers, the Native American headdresses, the model-like looks, the Kate Bush and Bjork references – seemed to fit all too well. Adjectives along the lines of “enigmatic” and “quixotic” and frothing (mostly male) reviewers followed.
That said, once inside the record’s tangle of harpsichords, pianos, hand-claps, lumbering percussion and smoke-tinged vocal inflections, it soon became apparent that there was a hell of a lot more to Khan than the alluring persona. A strikingly complete debut, Fur and Gold was a masterstroke of both atmospheric and immediate pop-craft; its songwriterly vignettes as striking six months in as they were on first spin.
All the same, Two Suns, you thought, might be her undoing. Plenty of artists can manage lofty debut; fewer follow it up with something even remotely as impressive. The reverb-laced guitars and electronics and urgent tom/snare tumbles (thanks to guest Yeasayer) of opening stanza ‘Glass’ soon puts that notion to rest. Across the track’s four and a half minutes, Khan projects perhaps her most arresting vocal performance thus far, swooping and spiralling into wondrous flashes of low and high register. It’s a signpost and a telling step forward from the folk-flecked tropes of Fur and Gold.
The further it unravels, the further Two Suns reveals its ambitiousness. This isn’t just a pretty pop record, but a dense, layered and outwardly challenging melange. Khan refuses to settle into any one mode here. Against a fractured backdrop of menacing synth atmospheres, prickly electronics, stuttered rhythms, stark, skeletal instrumentation, Khan weaves the record’s central protagonist – a troubled blonde named “Pearl” – through some of the most sumptuously rendered melodies you’ll hear this year.
The prog-heavy pop of lead single ‘Daniel’ is a highlight, while the beauteous, lushly orchestrated piano sketches ‘Moon and Moon’ and ‘Siren Song’ show Khan’s knack for simple song structure and genuine vocal melody.
But it’s the wondrous electronic architectures of ‘Pearl’s Dream’ that prove the record’s centrepiece. Amid a drift of spacious minor key synths and clustered electronic beats – the kind so wonderfully realised by first-generation IDM artists like Black Dog and Plaid in the mid 90s – Khan rephrases the atmospheric dirge into a thrilling, freakishly pretty piece of pure pop.
It’s the record and Natasha Khan’s finest moment. She was suspiciously good before, but with ‘Pearl’s Dream’, she arrives as an artist of genuine consequence – feathers, glitter, good looks, face paint and all.