Emerging from a bout of writers’ block, Natasha Khan recently told the Observer that whilst creating The Haunted Man (set for release on October 15th) she felt she had “lost her way”, but had emerged “at the crux of something quite special”. Following the success of Two Sons and its Novello Award-winning single “Daniel”, Khan’s third offering showcases an album equal parts mature musical progression and familiar soundscapes.
Dreamy, magical, atmospheric, cinematic – it’s easy to be swept away in a wash of (deserved) adjectives on first listen to The Haunted Man. The previous Bat For Lashes albums carried throughout a pervasive sense of separation, of grasping at fragments to draw them together, and trying to connect people and places with lyrical ribbons. The Haunted Man touches on this, carrying forward familiar motifs whilst introducing us to new people. A composite of aural tale telling, sensory description, and her band of mythical characters, these stories are less the sugary, technicolour fairytales of children’s film, and more the dark, brooding European tales of Charles Perrault.
Lead single “Laura” is a beautifully slow, languid address to a friend, plaintively urging the namesake to realise (as Khan does) that she’s “more than a superstar” and more than her wide smile and high heels. A warm, gradual crescendo builds to the jarring, anguished refrain – the musically beautiful but lyrically dubious “you’re the train that crashed my heart, you’re the glitter in the dark”. This disparity between musical and lyrical quality, with the latter being almost cartoonish in their gently overwritten costumes and disingenuous metaphors, is present throughout The Haunted Man, whose sprinkles of glitter, gold and hearts would be just as at home over a three chord guitar riff, passing as an early Hole song.
Khan has a notable penchant for first-name odes to her characters – we’re already acquainted with Daniel, Prescilla and Sarah; we’ve now met Laura, and are introduced to Marilyn (you know the one she means – blonde actress, white dress, subway vent... ) This track is her second collaboration with Beck (the first having been Let’s Get Lost on the Twilight Saga: Eclipse soundtrack). This particular Marilyn is a twinkling, rising, synth-heavy song exploring ideas of star quality. A Wall and Oh Yeah are notably more upbeat tracks in comparison – in the former Khan sings “where you see a wall, I see a door”; she’s in effervescent, glass-half-full mode. No less pensive than other numbers, A Wall is underpinned by a rhythmic loop and uplifting, coaxing melody, whilst the slow electronic beat and male voice choir sample of Oh Yeah reflect the sense of feeling “alive” expressed within the lyrics.
Winter Fields is a dark, delicate mid-album track, bringing to mind the cold bright light of winter days and a chill, quiet emptiness. The eerie haunting of a flute opens the track, cinematic strings are then layered over a hypnotic beat, and a bleak wintery horizon is created. This aesthetic quality of her lyrical content – rich with mythical beings and fairy tale landscapes – is in part what helps to distance her from the frequently drawn comparisons to artists such as Cat Power and Tori Amos.
As with the first two albums there is a sustained sense of being on the cusp of brilliance, or in her own words “at the crux of something quite special” - it’s just not quite here yet. There’s atmosphere a-go-go, intrigue and charm, but not quite enough depth. In many ways The Haunted Man feels like a case of the combination of elements being greater as a whole than being able to stand on their own. Khan’s hit and miss lyrics meld with her cinematic sounds to make for an enchanted elegance. A beautiful record, but one that leaves a distinct feeling that there’s more, and better, yet to come.
2. All Your Gold
3. Horses Of The Sun
4. Oh Yeah
6. Winter Fields
7. The Haunted Man
9. A Wall
10. Rest Your Head
11. Deep Sea Diver
The album The Haunted Man is out now on Parlaphone Records and is available for purchase here
Review by Hannah Curr