Perhaps when we look back on the early 2000s music scene, the genre that will define it will be Bat for Lashes’ strain of chill-out electronica, variously labelled folktronica, baroque pop and dream pop. After all, we’ve heard similar from Lykke Li and The xx, and can hear it in the softer end of Florence & the Machine, all NME favourites over the last decade. Or perhaps we will recall the Take That reunion. I know which one I’d prefer to remember.
When Bat for Lashes released their debut album Fur and Gold in 2006, the scene for such music was thriving, with bands like Guillemots creating experimental tracks intended for serious listening rather than the dancefloor. Natasha Khan, vocalist and songwriter, received a great deal of critical praise for both Fur and Gold and her follow-up album, Two Suns. Her newest effort, The Haunted Man, is due out on 15th October.
The album opens with ‘Lilies’, an echo-heavy song with a soft vocal line, which resounds over electronic ambiance, gradually building up and introducing violins, quiet guitars and repetitive percussive sound. It begins the album promisingly, though it’s a little too calm, and the track ends abruptly, like someone dropped a damp tea-towel on the keyboard. In the next song, ‘All Your Gold’, Khan does not attempt to create large aural spaces and fill them with ambient noise – instead, she builds layer upon layer of sound, minimalistically, beginning with just one or two textural elements and then adding tracks of melody and percussion . Half way through, ‘All Your Gold’ seems to liven up, bringing all the elements together, reminding me of Gotye’s ubiquitous ‘Somebody I Used to Know’. It drifts back into the distance afterwards though, and concludes without really developing into anything interesting.
From then on, there is little deviation from type. Some tracks, like Horses of the Sun, put harmony to use more actively, similarly to The Callers, and a decided departure can be found on ‘Laura’, with a PJ Harvey-style minimalistic piano line complemented beautifully by Khan’s gentle vocals. Lyrically, though, her songs attempt profundity and hit poignancy at best. Most of them seem to be about how happy she is to be alive, or how sad she is in her relationships – very nice, but pseudo-deep, and often weighted under so much echo that it is a real task to decipher the words. Many casual listeners probably wouldn’t bother.
When I first listened to this album, I had the worst freshers’ headache that you could possibly imagine. Bat for Lashes was wonderful for soothing the pain, but on a brighter day, it would be far too shock-free. Do I still prefer it to Take That? Of course. But that isn’t saying much.