Bat for Lashes :: Fur & Gold
"Chick music" gets a bad rap. I should know - I'm generally quite fond of hurling insults at the genre whenever possible. But over the past couple of years, I've had to start swallowing some of my wisecracks to make space for some sassy, skillful women. Neko Case, for example, managed to make altcountry cool, while Regina Spektor went and charmed my ears off with her eccentricity. However, I still maintain that no band or artist can be all heart. There has to be something edgy, tense, or wicked buried in the softness to save the sound from being too wimpy.
Bat For Lashes, or the work of half-Pakistani, half-English singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and visual artist Natasha Khan, does not make wimpy music. Yes, it is soft at times, and delicate, and it's got heart. But there's also something... phantasmagoric about her sound. The nonvocal elements are simplepiano, harpsichord, guitar, and backseat beatsbut they band together to create such strong, mystical atmospheres that the music almost appears visual at times.
Released in the U.S. in July, Fur and Gold was nominated for the 2007 Mercury Prize, meaning Khan is already on every critic's radar. While this debut is often curious and engaging, it's not an instant classicbut it has a couple of awesome tracks. And what's pleasantly surprising is how the relatively short songs manage to evoke moods and settingsand transport the listenerso quickly. The album's fine opening track, "Horse & I," marches in with military drumming and a jittery harpsichord, but like on the rest of the album, it's Khan's velvety, searching voice thatquietlycarries the power. Initially, I couldn't get over her vocal resemblance to Björk, but after a few listens, Khan's voice really became its own animal.
Other tracks, like "Tahiti," are beautiful in their minimalism, sounding something like modern, ethereal lullabies. "Trophy" is richer, with vaguely sinister drums at odds with lovely piano work as Khan repeats the refrain "Heaven is a feeling I get in your arms" to a somewhat threatening effect. "What's a Girl to Do" should have been the best song on the albumits plodding drums and layered vocals are cinematic and dramaticbut the song's spell is broken by slightly awkward spoken-word interludes. Woeful ballad "Sad Eyes" is a little too earnest for my tastes, but "The Wizard" is haunting and excellent, conjuring images of dark, fairy-tale woods filled with enchanted, winged creatures (think Lord of the Rings but with freakfolk fairies, not hairy hobbits). The song marks the album's midpoint, after which the record tapers off rather unremarkably, buoyed only by the interesting arrangements of "Prescilla" and the sweet/ominous split personality of "Bat's Mouth."
What gets to me about this record is that Khan appears to be timid with her talent. She holds back, like she's afraid to give us anything permanent, and would prefer to waft in and out of her own gothic, surreal imagery. With potential like this, she and the band ought to be swaggering instead. Still, Khan is a chick to keep your eye onall criticism aside, there is something simply bewitching about this debut.