The English songstress and Flavorpill favorite is back in New York for a show at Webster Hall
Bat For LashesWebster Hall (125 East 11th Street, Manhattan, NY 10003) Map it $30
Album number three. In the trajectory of any recording career, it’s a milestone. But it’s one with a mythology so powerful it’s become a syndromic cliché, around which swirls a dread that threatens to swallow its (supposedly) panicking creator. For plenty of artists, the “difficult third album” can loom like a hurdle of K2-scaled monumentality. How the hell might you tackle it, is the question. The answer, if you’re Bat for Lashes, is you simply climb higher and through that, conquer your fears.
The creation of Natasha Khan, Bat for Lashes first captured hearts way back in 2006 with a set of distinctively haunting and rich, darkly phantasmagoric songs ripe with magic realism. Her sensual and gilt-decorated dream world was opened up in two Mercury Music Prize nominated albums, the atavistic, reverb-drenched Fur and Gold (2006) and 2009’s more electronically poppy Two Suns. The latter featured the irresistible Daniel – which won Ms Khan an Ivor Novello award for Best Contemporary Song – and was recorded in London and across America.
In the wake of its success, Khan was left in a migratory, unfixed state and a not altogether certain frame of mind. Coming off a heavy tour and after the end of a trans-Atlantic relationship, she decided some self-nurturing was in order and resolved to take as much time as was needed to make her third album. “I felt quite drained and tired, creatively,” Khan remembers, “so I decided to get back to this really domesticated existence in my flat in Brighton. I felt like I needed to be immersed in nature and have a quiet, reflective time.” That involved working on dance films, writing a script, children’s book illustrations, a spell of volunteer gardening at Charleston House in East Sussex (the Bloomsbury Group’s country retreat) and going back to Brighton University for some informal tutorials with her old art teacher and reading recommended books. One of these, ‘The Enchantment of Art’ provided a small epiphany and planted a seed of change in her approach to what was to become The Haunted Man.
With this rediscovery of her roots and beloved home, The Haunted Man is the most autobiographical of Khan’s records so far. “On this album there are more jubilant, overwhelmingly ecstatic songs and I don’t think I’ve really accessed that part of myself before. I feel those things all the time, but hadn’t really expressed them in a musical way. It’s always been easy for me to be atmospheric and look at the darkness – and I do love that side of art and music – but I think it’s much harder to be unabashedly joyous and vulnerable and happy. I wanted to challenge the creative patterns I’d set myself in and also to just surprise myself. I’d bored myself. So, out of that came some very lovely and some very challenging moments for me as an artist. But I think it’s very important to be challenged. It’s a good sign to be scared, I think!”
Surprised. Challenged. Scared. That might sound like the very definition of a “difficult third album.” But it’s only in the telling of this confident and openly expressive record, not in the listening. And it’s clear that Natasha Khan wouldn’t have had it any other way.