"My bat-lightning heart wants to fly away"

Years active: Genres: Related artists:
2006 - Art Pop, Singer/Songwriter n/a

There's a handful of adjectives that persistently follow Bat for Lashes AKA Natasha Khan and her collaborators: "dreamy", "otherwordly", "fantastical", "surreal"... you get the drift. That's the point, though. Khan conjures these descriptors deliberately, with her music across the years diving deep into her own world that feels like a fantasy movie turned into music so strongly you could imagine stage fog to come out of the speakers to cover the floor - heck, she'd likely want people to add "theatrical" and "cinematic" to that checklist. From the goth romance poetry of her earlier material to the more defined conceptual cycles of her later output, the magic that Khan wraps her music is always just as inherently important as the music itself. She's not concerned of the mundane or the realistic: even her biographical songs are scattered with detail that belongs in a fiction book. If that type of approach connects with you, you may have just found yourself a new artist to cherish.

Khan's music at its best is a dive into something mystical and different. She hails from the school of solo acts who view their solitary command as a means to enrich the sound rather than restrict, allowing for musical shapeshifting as the mood takes and utilising any suitable instrumentation: the very first thing you hear from Bat for Lashes if you go into them chronologically is a harpsichord, and that sets the table in so many ways. Each album of hers is a soundtrack to an entirely different view of the world and an entirely different soundscape within which she forms her multi-layered pop songs. If that sounds familiar then that's fair, I acknowledge the point, but I also hesitate to raise the cursed letters "K.B." that haunt after every woman in music. Khan leans so heavily in her own aesthetic - formed by equal parts of 1980s pop culture, art film soundtracks and pulp literature - that she stands out for herself quite strongly.

I guess the main downside I have with Khan's back catalogue and the reason I've placed her in the category she's in is that even though every single one of her albums sounds like it could be a classic, she's always been short of one. Per the reviews below she's got one that comes close, but with the rest there's always something that's either amiss or not taken to its furthest potential - and it's often really, painfully close as well! So much of Khan's music rests in her concepts that sometimes the songwriting gets pushed back to serve the themes; she shares that issue with some other artists that are (will be) featured in these pages but it leaves a larger imprint in her case because she doesn't have that many albums in her rarely-expanded discography. Nonetheless, whenever the planets do align, she releases a truly phenomenal song that combines all the best parts of her influences and own ideas - across her first two albums alone she's got several candidates I'd shortlist on a "best songs of the 2000s" list, and that's why her music can be so exciting to follow. Even if the albums aren't necessarily as strong as singular experiences even when the intention has been to make a cohesive body work, you can always count on something excellent - and otherwordly - to appear somewhere in the tracklist.

(Editor's note: I know she's done albums beyond The Bride but as I don't own these yet, they are not listed below)

Main chronology:


Release year: Rating: Key tracks:
2007 6 "Horse and I", "Trophy", "What's a Girl to Do?"

1) Horse and I; 2) Trophy; 3) Tahiti; 4) What's a Girl to Do?; 5) Sad Eyes; 6) The Wizard; 7) Prescilla; 8) Bat's Mouth; 9) Seal Jubilee; 10) Sarah; 11) I Saw a Light

Welcome to the mystical world of Bat for Lashes - even though it's not quite the welcome you once might've thought it to be.

Time has unexpectedly removed some of the charm of Fur and Gold. Back in 2006 this was an incredibly exciting debut release from a new artist with a particularly characteristic touch to her music, and whose debut gave us the chance to peer into the musical fairytale world she called her own. Since then we've had many more Bat for Lashes releases which have built up on that initial excitement, and which have at the same time accidentally revealed just how one-note Natasha Khan's debut actually was - and in retrospect, just how much of its magic was reliant on two songs in particular. One of them, "Horse and I", is one of the defining debut album openers of the new millennium - a thrilling journey of a song that sets out Khan's entire ethos and manifesto and then crafts a world around those in just under three minutes, built on a small number of very particular elements (with a harpsichord of all things in the lead role) but marching on like a juggernaut, making for an incredibly powerful introduction. The other, "What's a Girl to Do?", takes those same ideas and marries them to a more traditional pop song format with the result coming across like a gothic nightmare take on Motown; with Khan's alluring personality, an instantly attention-demanding set of hooks and a swooning, theatrically bombastic chorus, as well a classic music video, it easily set itself out as one of 2006's best singles and still commands attention the moment the music player queues it up.

Beyond those songs Fur and Gold just isn't as superlative as it felt originally though, which is as strange as it is a little sad. Khan has a very particular vision for her music - all widescreen, dramatic and mystical, lyrics full of wild conjurations and bat lightning hearts - and in her later albums she's weaved those ideas into a multitude of sounds and styles that she now calls her own. Fur and Gold in comparison is all gothic gloom, crawling tempo and sparse arrangement where the lack of elements is as much of an instrument as the steady simple beats, strings, the occasional bass and Khan's keyboards are. Which isn't a bad formula to build songs upon and many of the cuts here - the hypnotic "Trophy", seductively sleazy "The Wizard", the Nick Cave -esque "Sarah", the quiet "Sad Eyes" - do well with it. It simply gets very similar very soon when there's little variety involved, which is all the more apparent towards the backside of the album when Khan has started to exhaust her bag of tricks, and what initially impressed now already seems rote. "Bat's Mouth" and "Seal Jubilee" already run on fumes, and the closing "I Saw a Light" is practically exhausting with its six-and-half minute duration and ends the album with by committing the cardinal sin of being boring. Khan has laid out a solid foundation for herself but the relative lack of range gets a little monotonous, and sonical shake-ups like "What's a Girl to Do" and the surprisingly bright-eyed and airy "Prescilla" that liven things up just by way of offering something different are few and far between.

Khan herself is incredibly compelling as a storyteller for these surreal dream-like scenarios she sets out in her songs and she's by far the stand-out aspect of Fur and Gold. Even when the music threatens to turn into a bog you have to wade through and the lyrics veer a little too close into particularly vivid teen diary poetry, she's front and centre with her charisma pulling everything together into a functionable whole. Without her in lead this'd be half the album it is now because as far as the material itself goes, apart from the handful of highlights Fur and Gold sticks a lot less than it gives the impression of. Still, it's not an album I can badmouth even as the years have dimmed its shine. Khan's simply written better, more consistent records further on in her career and by assessing her journey (so far) as a whole, I guess I've finally come to realise that I only ever did listen to this album on the strength of a few select songs while the rest acted as enjoyable enough padding in-between. It's a compelling sound with much promise, but promise turns out to be the key word after all.

Physically: The copy I have comes in a standard jewel case but I suspect it's not the original case. This was a second hand purchase and the disc hold is a generic black one; furthermore, the spine print is missing parts off the edges which leads me to think this was originally packed in a super jewel case. It would make sense, given the year of release. The booklet is a simple fold-out one with a bunch of photos and artwork, no lyrics.


Release year: Rating: Key tracks:
2009 8 "Glass", "Daniel", "Pearl's Dream"

1) Glass; 2) Sleep Alone; 3) Moon and Moon; 4) Daniel; 5) Peace of Mind; 6) Siren Song; 7) Pearl's Dream; 8) Good Love; 9) Two Planets; 10) Travelling Woman; 11) The Big Sleep

Taking the right lessons away from the debut, this is where Khan establishes what Bat for Lashes stands for.

I spoke in my review for Fur and Gold how that album has lost its shimmer as years have gone by, but on the other hand Two Suns has has only begun to shine brighter with time. The second Bat for Lashes album is exactly how you should follow up a debut with potential like Fur and Gold, by taking those unique elements that did work the first time around and fearlessly double down on them by expanding and refining. The results speak for themselves: Two Suns has become synonymous with Bat for Lashes and still remains as the number one thing that comes to my mind when I hear Khan's name.

What sets Two Suns apart from its predecessor - and most of the other Bat for Lashes albums in general - is its go-big-or-go-home attitude. There was a lot going on in the background during the recording process and Khan, always fond of expressing herself theatrically, imbibed on it: a relationship started and ended during the writing process which became the album's cornerstone inspiration, she followed her new love to New York where the album was largely recorded, and during her adventures there she devised an alter ego named Pearl who she dressed up as during her tenure in the States and who crops up in a handful of songs. Those big notions and grand gestures in turn influenced the music to grow in a similar fashion, and so Two Suns makes a clear departure from the debut’s skeletal bedroom gloom by presenting itself more vividly. "Glass", the opener, starts with a quiet hymnal which could easily have been at home within the debut but it soon breaks into a storm of layered percussion and bellowing vocals, Khan stretching her wings as she breaks away from the chrysalis of the debut into the new, multi-layered world. Where debut avoided dramatic musical gestures, Two Suns revels in them.

Khan and her musical language nestle into that perfectly. Two Suns isn’t about towering bombast or epic measures, but Khan is painting her visions with a fuller palette which makes the songs reach higher. She still finds solace in minimal soundscapes as and when seen fit - the beautiful piano ballad "Moon and Moon", the askew gospel of "Peace of Mind", the haunting Scott Walker-backed closing lullaby "The Big Sleep" - but she's juxtaposing them by adopting new rulesets for the other songs, the most important of which is really leaning into that knack for a spellbinding hook she's got. She's writing something close to pop songs now and she's perfect at balancing that more direct approach with a more fleshed-out production that emphasises her signature traits. The jaunty and twangy "Sleep Alone", anthemic "Pearl's Dream" and percussion rave of "Two Planets" are Khan's versions of widescreen pop songs and they're sublime, clearly from the same dreamland the debut conjured up but more vivid and commanding. None moreso than the lead single "Daniel". Khan has always loved the 1980s and that influence will crop up throughout her back catalogue in a myriad of ways; "Daniel" is her take on the dramatic synth pop songs littered throughout that decade which rushed through their showstopper choruses with near-anxious urgency. She's done many songs more intricate and more specifically characteristic to her than the tribute flair of "Daniel", but she's never done anything as instantly gripping and lastingly striking. "Daniel" stands out as Khan's signature song for a reason, a once-in-a-career big hit (from an artistic perspective, though to a lesser extent commercially too) single that stands timelessly within her own ouevre despite its clear influences.

I make a number of comparisons between the debut and Two Suns because to me they are clearly linked and in particular how the latter feels like wish fulfillment based on the former, as if Khan and I had shared the mild criticisms I had of that record and she went forward exactly how I wanted her to go for the follow-up. "Horse and I" and "What's a Girl to Do?" were such massive standouts on the debut because they were so much livelier than anything else on that album and Two Suns takes their wider arrangements as the blueprint for an entire album. Even the subtler moments feel more developed than most of the debut, "Moon and Moon" and the achingly solemn "Travelling Woman" in particular sounding all the more vulnerable and longing because of how they contrast with their immediate neighbours. Two Suns is an obvious case of an artist understanding the breadth of their talent and making it their goal to bring that artistic growth to life in full bloom, confidently and fearlessly. The whole album feels like it has a point to prove about its importance - from the attention-demanding arrangements to the inter-referential lyrics that give the album an air of a pseudo-concept record - which Khan and her team took great effort to make sure they can back that point up. In doing so, Two Suns established itself as the center of Khan's galaxy; an excellent record highlighting every reason why one should fall in love with Bat for Lashes.

Physically: A standard jewel case with a fairly minimal and short booklet with no lyrics apart from the verse from Song of Solomon (quoted in "Glass" and referenced later in "Two Planets"). It's not particularly interesting, though if you want concrete proof of the wider arrangements on this album compared to the debut, the size of the track-by-track credits section makes it obvious.


Release year: Rating: Key tracks:
2012 7 "Lilies", "All Your Gold", "Oh Yeah"

1) Lilies; 2) All Your Gold; 3) Horses of the Sun; 4) Oh Yeah; 5) Laura; 6) Winter Fields; 7) The Haunted Man; 8) Marilyn; 9) A Wall; 10) Rest Your Head; 11) Deep Sea Diver

It's still recognisably Bat for Lashes but it's all... full of light and joy?

On the covers of her first two albums Khan dressed up in feathers, elaborate headwear and gothic garments of various kinds, stood in mystic settings and was surrounded by props. She evoked magic and fantasy, emphasised the imagery to bring her concept-heavy songs to life. On the front of The Haunted Man she’s stark naked against a plain gray backdrop, only accompanied by her titular haunted man who is just as bare as she is. It’s an intentional contrast - a sign of dropping any pretense, toning down the make-belief and coming forward as just herself.

The long and short of The Haunted Man is that it offers a more naked sound than the first two albums as well as a similarly more direct lyrical style instead of the former flowery prose. The idea seems to have been to show off Natasha Khan rather than the stylistically exaggerated character of the original albums, to do away with the bat lightning hearts and split personality concepts and to bring out Khan’s own voice. She's also returned to the more sparsely arranged sound of the debut over the maximalist pop production of Two Suns, though sparse is perhaps the wrong word. There’s a clear emphasis on few distinct elements per song over a busy sonic soundscape - with a steady minimalistic drum machine as one of the frequent main contributors - but the sound has been given space to breathe, resulting in the arrangements sounding very lush. The production is both lightweight and grand, with the gothic halls of yore switched to vast natural plains; soundwise alone The Haunted Man is wonderful to listen to. Khan herself sounds not just free-spirited but more confident, like this is the first time that she is performing as herself rather than as a stylistically exaggerated character and she’s relishing every moment of it. When she joyously shouts “thank god I’m alive” as the music bursts into a rich orchestral bliss in the opener “Lilies”, it’s such a genuine expression of emotion that it hits the listener just as strongly as it does her. Whether it was the goal or not, The Haunted Man sounds like an album of personal liberation.

The flipside with the new approach is that it’s made Khan’s songwriting less consistent. A number of tracks have length issues as the more atmospheric approach accidentally allows them to either meander a little too long for their own good or to mistake a lush production for something more tangible. There is a noticeable gap between the key tracks and the rest of the album, and in fact “Horses of the Sun” is the first Bat for Lashes album track you could call downright weak, making a lot of clatter without going anywhere for five minutes. It’s a shame, because when The Haunted Man hits the point it successfully combines the eccentricity of the debut with the otherworldly pop songs of the second album. “All Your Gold”, “Oh Yeah”, the before-mentioned “Lilies” and the transforming title track are all excellent, but it’s the airy synthpop piece “A Wall” that has sneakily managed to become the album’s moment of purest musical delight, marrying the directly inviting tone that made “Daniel” from Two Suns such a prior standout with the new open, floating sound to a most hooking effect.

There is also the somber piano ballad “Laura”, the oft-cited highlight that seems to have become& The Haunted Man’s standout moment, but to me it’s always felt a little strange. It’s a really good song in all honesty, but it was co-written with the Lana Del Rey collaborator Justin Parker and you can hear it. Khan and piano are normally a winning combination but this time it comes off more like a Del Rey track than a Bat for Lashes one - not a bad thing in itself, but it comes off clunky in the context of the album and sounds like a standalone bonus track thrown in the middle of Khan’s personal collection.

A mixed bag, then. The Haunted Man sounds exactly the right step for Khan to have taken - it expands her sound, keeps the familiar elements but twists them into a new form and sees her stepping out of one guise into another, showing she has the range for it. And, yet, it does so with slightly uneven results - mostly interesting, sometimes great, occasionally rather meandering and a couple of times about to derail.

Physically: A jewel case with a lyrics booklet. Ordering this album from a specific store (I think it was HMV?) also gave you four random art cards inspired by the songs on the album: my copy came with the cards for "All Your Gold", "Laura", "The Haunted Man" and "Marilyn".


Release year: Rating: Key tracks:
2016 6 "In God's House", "Sunday Love", "Close Encounters"

1) I Do; 2) Joe's Dream; 3) In God's House; 4) Honeymooning Alone; 5) Sunday Love; 6) Never Forgive the Angels; 7) Close Encounters; 8) Widow's Peak; 9) Land's End; 10) If I Knew; 11) I Will Love Again; 12) In Your Bed

Finally delving deeper into those soundtrack-like qualities of the prior albums with a full on concept album, but that concept seems to come before the songs.

It was only a matter of time until Khan came up with a bonafide concept album given the love for wider themes that she has demonstrated in her prior albums, and The Bride couldn't be more BfL-esque if it tried. With so much of the Bat for Lashes discography centered around romantic notions that are more longing than loving and almost fatalistic in their devotion, naturally the first full-on story that Khan devises is about a bride-to-be is left alone at the altar after the groom is killed in a car crash on the way to the church. Amidst her grieving, the never-wed decides to take the intended honeymoon trip by herself while searching for answers and meaning in the universe. The Bride wanders the mountains and the seas, connects spiritually with her former partner and ultimately finds the first strands of will to go on, but ultimately the story arc is left unresolved - because how could you ever neatly reconcile such a dramatic loss?

It's always been obvious that soundtracks rank highly among Khan's musical inspirations, and one of the biggest compliments you can give to The Bride is how much it sounds like a score to a film she put her vocal tracks over. Khan weaves dramatic arcs, builds tension and sets up narrative threads in the way a director puts together a film - the songs act as scenes that link together into a greater whole, where everything serves the narrative first and foremost. You don't even need to know it's a concept album to understand that, simply because of how vividly the music tells the story. It's in no small part because the musical language Khan uses throughout is closer to film scores than indie pop albums: the sound here is deeply atmospheric and leaves a space for the narrative to course through, built on sparse elements which are used less as melodic tools and more as methods to decorate the unfolding scenes, where percussion is minimal at best. Khan's voice in the center is practically ethereal thanks to the vast amounts of space the arrangements leave around it, and she brings the central character to life with dramatic, actor-like yearning. It wouldn't surprise me one bit if someone did think this actually is an expanded accompaniment to a visual counterpiece, and I have to give Khan kudos for how The Bride is both a film and its soundtrack at once.

You know there's a 'but' though, and it's a two-fold matter. Despite its narrative cohesion, The Bride as an album is one of two halves where the first steps take wider moves with a bit of a beat to their step, while the second half sinks deep into that soundtrack feel by acting as singular suite of sustained moods. The first set of songs is closer to the established core sound for Bat for Lashes and does well merging this album's more widescreen ideas into Khan's ideas of pop songs. They're not among Khan's best compositions but they leave a lingering impression and in their own right are a stable ground to build an album on. The drama of "In God's House" is what truly kicks the album into gear after the intentionally and ingeniously sweet bridal march "I Do" and the nervous "Joe's Dream" act as the extended intro and it sounds a little special on that alone, and "Sunday Love" dashes forward with a nervous step and injects some much-needed energy to the record after four songs of moody marching. It's an impressive start even if not such a stand-out outside the album context, but what that initial run of songs does do is build up the tragedy and ache of the album, steadily winding the spring tighter, for that pay-off to come.

It never does. I mentioned how the album's story arc feels like it's missing an ending, and that carries through to the music. The entire bottom half of the record is one anonymous mood piece, exquisitely crafted but oddly empty: illustrating scenes to film which, at the end of the day, doesn't exist. It's rather pretty at places - "Land's End" and "If I Knew" especially - but in practice what happens is that the dramatic (and musical) build up of the first half ends up fizzling out quietly before the abrupt credits roll. Much of the final run of songs feel like segues or bridges between greater moments, but with all those important cornerstones missing and all you have are the thin strands. They're inconsequential and unmemorable at worst, and lovely enough ambience with no depth at best. Making matters inadvertently a little worse is "Close Encounters" which starts off that sequence of spatial ballads, and which is the one song on this record I would count as among Khan's very best. Made out of mostly just strings, her voice and a celestial choir of backing vocals, in this one song she consolidates together all the pain and longing that the album's central story arc is built around to a most devastating degree, with a chorus melody that is one of the most immediately piercing and disarming moments she has ever committed to tape. Everything that comes afterwards tries to do the same but sound like half-thought epilogues, all one after another: a stream of songs with barest of ideas that disappear into one another as well as into the ether immediately after hearing them.

I do honestly admire the ideas that Khan presents on The Bride and it has all the makings of a truly special Bat for Lashes album, one which would dive delightfully deep into the musical and thematic concepts that have been lurking around in the background for a while. The ideas around the production and the arrangements, the widescreen drama in the actual music itself and Khan's vocal performance (probably her best so far) are all top notch and clear takeaways from the album. It's almost unfair then how the actual songs fall short, and the further the album moves the less life it has. The danger of concept albums is when the concept overrides the musical content and you can see it happen here: the trappings are all in place but as a set of songs - in melodies, hooks, emotional resonance - it's Khan's weakest so far. The comparisons to soundtracks feel so apt once more, because so many scores turn out be incredibly meandering no matter how much you love the source material when the visual accompaniment they're meant to go with is stripped away. The arrangements for The Bride favour space, but the deeper you get into the album the more it feels like it's just emptiness. There are many things to love The Bride for - I'm not rating this all the way to the bottom, after all - but as a selection of music it's almost underbaked.

A mixed bag, then. The Haunted Man sounds exactly the right step for Khan to have taken - it expands her sound, keeps the familiar elements but twists them into a new form and sees her stepping out of one guise into another, showing she has the range for it. And, yet, it does so with slightly uneven results - mostly interesting, sometimes great, occasionally rather meandering and a couple of times about to derail.

Physically: A gatefold with a lyrics/art booklet. All in wonderfully glossy packaging throughout though, which I'm such a sucker for.

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