Bat for Lashes | Fur and Gold (The Echo Label)

cd_batforlashesAs you draw closer to the source, you hear that it's some kind of lush, strange music with a female singer. You're captivated, even at this distance.

 

 

 

 

It's dark. You're disoriented, scratching your head, trying to figure out where you are. You're on the outskirts of a strange town, and you see the dim illumination from some buildings up ahead, but there are no cars on the road. Just you, stumbling along with a sense of unease about what to do. Someone you care about is in trouble, and you haven't been able to reach them. A million thoughts are going through your mind, but none are particularly focused. You keep walking. There's music playing up ahead somewhere. As you draw closer to the source, you hear that it's some kind of lush, strange music with a female singer. You're captivated, even at this distance. The music seems to be crying, soundtracking the angst of lost and lonely souls everywhere. You're one of them right now, and you need some relief. You make your tentative way to the little nightclub where the sound is emanating from, but there's no attendant at the door. You nervously walk on in.

The little stage is mostly dark, but there's a spotlight on the woman playing the piano and singing. There's a guitarist, a bass player and perhaps a small string section, too, but they are entirely in shadow. Every lyric the woman sings comes across as profoundly knowing and empathetic; her voice is purely feminine, but somehow removed…like she is singing to exorcise a thousand ghosts – or maybe she's a ghost herself. "Excuse me, who's this performer?" you whisper to a seated patron. "It's Bat for Lashes," is the barely audible reply. How apt, you think, since you've started to go batty yourself, and your eyes have seemed half-closed for the last hour or so. But the sound is so riveting, you wouldn't think of falling asleep now. Instead, you take an empty chair and seat yourself, staring at the mysterious ensemble on the stage. Am I awake, or is this a dream?, you wonder. The answer isn't clear, but it feels more like the latter…

This is one incredibly potent album, that's for sure, and it lends itself to such nocturnal musings. Bat for Lashes is the work of British singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Natasha Khan, who has a noir-ish romantic aesthetic and an intuitive grasp of how to make every instrument contribute to the mood she seeks to convey. Album opener "Horse and I" was apparently recorded in a forest at night, according to the press release. The song came to Khan in a dream, but the eerie vibe permeates these eleven tracks, regardless of source inspiration. "Trophy" features ominous bass and an array of swirling textures, over which a voice that seems to blend DNA from Björk and earliest Joni Mitchell pricks your ears (and spine) with pinpoint clarity. The thoroughly spooky "Tahiti" casts a spell with an unlikely blend of piano and autoharp; throughout, Khan's playing is simple but emotive.

Some of these tunes are somber but in the most captivating way—take "Sad Eyes," an exquisitely intimate piano ballad showcasing Khan's breathiest vocals. "I can tell that you're lonely but it seems now/ There's nothing you want me to do/ I won't try to take the sadness from those eyes that I love/ Leave it open for someone else to," sings our spooked chanteuse, who's sure to activate someone's tear ducts with numbers like this. There's the artful "Bat's Mouth," one of several tunes featuring bowed saw along with Khan's delicately feminine voice; the richly atmospheric "Sarah," on which Khan jumps to a beguilingly high register on the chorus while muted keyboard layers the overall sound; and the unforgettably stirring "I Saw the Light," a primer on nostalgia, self-awareness and pure melancholy regarding life's ongoing duet between rapturous beauty and inevitable disillusionment. Khan says so much with every line, every shading of her voice. Fur and Gold may have arisen from fragments of dreams and romantic musings, but it's a gorgeous, unified testament to the power of self-expression and in particular, one woman's singular, hypnotic vision. A | Kevin Renick

RIYL: Björk in quieter moments, My Brightest Diamond, Kate Bush

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