If you decide to buy Bat For Lashes’ third album, The Haunted Man, the first thing you will notice the distinctive album artwork. Picking up the album, you will have in front of you a picture of Natasha Khan, the talented 32 year-old behind the Bat For Lashes’ moniker, standing completely naked, with a similarly clad, scrawny young man draped over her shoulders, conveniently preventing her from exposing herself. Khan has ditched the glamorous outfits of her elaborate alter-ego Pearl from her sophomore effort Two Suns, and presents herself simply as she is. With this radical change in aesthetics, it would follow that Khan’s musical style will have also undergone a change; however after listening to the album it is clear this is not the case.
Like a lot of her previous material, much of The Haunted Man, deals with – surprise, surprise – men, and particularly how they disappoint. The title track describes the angst over letting go of a relationship that has gone wrong, or rather, the inability to, as Khan grieves, “still I’m holding out my hand”. Similarly, the electronically fused ‘A Wall’, Khan talks about moving on in a relationship and the disappointment she feels as “where you see a wall I see door”.
This similarity is no bad thing, as present in The Haunted Man are all the elements that has made Bat For Lashes one of the brightest talents in British music. Her vocals are as engaging and varied as ever, going from seductive whispers to Kate Bush – style cries in opener ‘Lillies’, and uplifting wails in ‘Marilyn’. As well as her vocal invention, Khan continues to experiment instrumentally. While most songs are built around simple electronic drum beats, ‘Oh Yeah’ combines this with a gospel choir intro and vibrant synths, and album closer ‘Deep Sea Diver’ begins with rumbling drones before fading out with a slow drum beat and electro blips.
Fundamentally, there is not much different here from other Bat for Lashes work. However, as you would expect from Khan, the intriguing lyrics and intricate production work mean the album demands multiple listens. There are a couple of weak tracks, ‘Horses of the Sun’ and ‘Rest Your Head’ spring to mind, however listening to them is by no means a chore, they simply go by unnoticed, mainly because there are more highlights.
‘Laura’, the first single taken from the album, is a lament where Khan describes a friend who can not let go of the party lifestyle of her younger years. It is comprised only of Khan’s voice and a beautiful piano melody, however it is an entrancing, emotional song and undoubtedly the standout track of the album (watch the video here). The song that follows is ‘Winter Fields’ which begins with a funereal panpipe introduction before being overwhelmed by energetic synths, as if suggesting to ‘Laura’ that there is better things to come after the death of youth. These songs sum up what’s great about Bat For Lashes, the juxtaposition of the instruments used, and her poetic and imaginative lyrics, particularly the flower imagery that runs through the album, again suggesting the possibility of better things to come, make Khan’s work enjoyable and challenging, and a welcome addition to anyone’s music collection.
The Haunted Man, while not marking a dramatic change in Khan’s work as the cover would have you believe, is still an entertaining listen. While the album would not miss certain songs, Khan’s innate creative talent and care still makes the album an intriguing and rewarding listen.