Thursday, June 11, 2009

Bat For Lashes -- Two Suns

Bat For Lashes -- Two Suns (Astralwerks)

It’s pretty hard to write about Natasha Khan without mentioning Kate Bush. Khan is not an imitator of Bush so much as she is following the trail blazed by the queen of British art pop. Other artists, from Tori Amos to Sarah McLachlan, have garnered comparisons to Ms. Bush, but no one comes quite as close to putting together the package of music and imagery the way Ms. Khan does.

Khan’s music often sounds like The Dreaming/Hounds Of Love-era Bush if it were melded with some more modern sounds, such as trip-hop. And while Khan doesn’t have the pipes of Bush, she certainly has a winning voice.

This sophomore effort shows no signs of a slump. There is beauty and mystery lurking around almost every bend. And some hooks too.

This album starts strong and peaks in the middle with two songs that show Khan’s musical mastery. The dramatic “Pearl’s Dream” is an exquisite piano driven piece. Apparently, Pearl is an alter ego that allows Khan to express a different point of view. Whatever. The song starts with Khan accompanied only by a piano. The song turns from melodic to more percussive, with tympanies and drums and more keyboards building up in the refrain as reverb is added to Khan’s voice. She climbs up to the top of her range...and then things quiet down again. This is a very affecting song.

This is followed by “Good Love”, which is slinky and sexy. With keyboard lines on the top and an insinuating rhythm below, Khan is given room to narrate and emote. All of this leads into a delectable chorus, Khan multi-tracking her voice to great effect. As the song moves along, there are some creative arranging tricks that make it all the more interesting.

Khan has a wide array of colors on her palette. “Sleep Alone” manages to sound like a collaboration between Clinic and Annie Lennox, with a tense electronic drum beat mixing with angelic singing. Again, Khan takes a very captivating foundation and then embellishes with various instruments to give the track texture. This is topped off with another memorable chorus.

It should be no surprise that the first single from the album, “Daniel”, is also pretty memorable. This is a mid-tempo slow build song and despite all of the keyboards and other modern trappings, this is really just a good folk-pop song without any of the instrumentation that one would associate with that type of song. It’s as if Beth Orton went a couple steps further with her approach.

The only song that isn’t fully realized is the closing track, “The Big Sleep”, which features guest vocals from the legendary Scott Walker. Although his spectral crooning melds well with Khan’s pretty voice, the song itself doesn’t go much further than the main piano figure that defines it. It’s not a bad song by any means, but in the wake of what proceeded it, it’s a bit unsatisfying.

This exemplifies how strong the rest of the album is. The next step for Khan is stronger lyrics and to continue to grow and challenge herself. I look forward to following her on her journey.

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