Natasha Khan, you’re a spooky lady. You, with your emotive, melodramatic voice. You, with your ever-unsettling, curio-shop tunes and witch doctor beats. You, with your art school lyrics. You, with your … y’know, doing other spooky stuff, or whatever. You’re Wednesday Addams with better production value.
Take The Haunted Man, Khan’s third album as Bat for Lashes. First, take the cover: It’s a nightmarish American Apparel ad (but in a good way). Instead of selling overpriced Lycra jeggings, it’s selling the frailty of the male characters populating Khan’s lyrics. The photo is nearly literal branding for the album’s sonic atmosphere and lyrical content. Those lyrics are so tied together that The Haunted Man approaches the unity of a concept album. Each song is “Stand By Your Man” for the indie generation, and Natasha Kahn is the Tammy Wynette made possible by Siouxsie Sioux. Really, it’s explicit: As the title track goes, “Still, I’m standing by my haunted man.”
Sound and sentiment find the perfect marriage in “All Your Gold,” a tribal number lamenting the singer’s emotional unavailability toward her “good man,” spurred by past hurts. With dark, furtive percussion and wounded wailing, Khan asks “For every sweet nothing you whisper, why is ‘goodbye’ my reply?” There isn’t much pining on The Haunted Man; when not withholding affection, Khan is administering it, always the one with emotional agency, as on “Rest Your Head” (“Come on and rest your head, and I will protect you”).
But The Haunted Man isn’t just a gender studies term paper — it’s gorgeous listening. A good Bat for Lashes primer would be “Lillies,” which begins by sounding like a macabre Connie Francis song before segueing into full-on St. Vincent territory. The one-two punch of “Laura” and “Winter Fields” is the best part of the album, the former a deeply affecting ballad quite unlike any of the other tracks, and the former sounding like something a clan of druids would play while whittling pipes out of black oak. I realize that doesn’t sound cool, but those woodwinds will glue themselves to your ear.
At times tense and at times grand, The Haunted Man has character to spare. Come for the poetry, stay for the mood music.
(2) “All Your Gold”
(6) “Winter Fields”