Brighton-based neo-hippy siren Natasha Khan, aka Bat For Lashes, released her second album Two Suns last week, a record which sees her talent for creating crystal-pure otherworldly sonic landscapes deepening like a majestic coastal shelf. More narratively self-reflexive than Fur and Gold, Two Suns explores the philosophy of the self and duality through the variously recurring voices of “two separate yet ultimately attached beings”, Natasha (a “wild and mystical desert being” who represents the spiritual element) and Pearl (a blonde femme fatale, apparently engendered when Khan tried on a silver wig in a party shop). Khan has also benefitted greatly from a collaboration with Yeasayer, bringing just the right amount of throttling percussion and pulsating bass to prevent the delicate web structure of her blippy folk from blowing away on the nearest mystical desert wind.
This is a record of many interplays and collaborations, some purposefully displayed (as between spiritual and vampish protagonists), others merely tacit, like the twin spheres of Brighton and New York in which Khan was travelling while writing the album, or the mountainous debt owed to Bjork, Kate Bush, Stevie Nicks, and even contemporary stalwarts of creepy electronica the Knife. The most radio-friendly number ‘Daniel’, for example, rings with peals of Fleetwood Mac on a level which suggests that Khan’s exploration of identity might extend as far as the subsumption of self in favour of transcendence to the desired other; which is of course a ‘Pseuds Corner’-certified way of saying she as good as (Stevie) Nicked it.
Lyrically, the exploration of character and segregation of narrative voices has the potential for an intricately-woven tapestry of complex and conflicting impressions; something which isn’t quite utilised to its full mysterious potential with songs called ‘Pearl’s Dream’ and lyrics like, ahem, ‘my name is Pearl’. Gone too is the brooding, internal, kenning-laden poetry of Fur and Gold – no ‘bat-lightning hearts’ to be found flying here; instead a more Romantic, external focus on ‘crystal armour’ and ‘the giant iris of the wide blue sky’. This is no bad thing; yet sometimes the lyrics veer towards the predictably hippyish, and provide the only unalluring kind of insubstantiality to be found on the record.
Khan’s voice has refined to an even more spectacular carat on Two Suns than was found on Fur and Gold, and tracks like ‘Two Planets’ allow it to resound in spectral echoes which are quite simply stunning. While my Sugababes-indulged craving for Europop hooks is fulfilled (with a noir twist) by ‘Daniel’ and ‘Pearl’s Dream’, the fact that the rest of the album commands my gnat-sized attention and imagination is testament to the power and beauty of Khan’s ethereal storyscapes. The follow-up to Fur and Gold was always going to require an immense endeavour; Natasha Khan’s concept second offering is as good as anyone could have hoped for, the highlights of which are out of this world.
In lieu of an ill-fated Tapes on Tuesday, meet the Parenthetical Girls in their video for ‘A Song for Ellie Greenwich’ from their soon to be reviewed album, Entanglements. I imagine that this is what would happen in one of Gene Wilder’s dreams in which Willy Wonka covers ‘Close to You’ by The Carpenters in the golden egg factory, with beautiful people, retro couture, and syncopation to match.
Two main causes for feminist facepalms all round the Eat Your Sherbert towers in the news this week. Firstly, in an appalling move to appease religious fundamentalist godbags and womanhaters in Afghanistan, president Hamid Karzai has signed laws which legalize rape within a marriage, stating that a man can expect to have sex with his wife at least “once every four nights” when travelling, unless they are ill. Not content with removing the requirement for sexual consensuality, the bill also tacitly approves child marriage and restricts a woman’s right to leave the home. Under the law, men would also be given preferential inheritance rights, easier access to divorce, priority in court, and the right to “grant permission” for their wives to seek employment or get a doctor’s appointment.
It is hard from this report to contemplate any way in which they could have more comprehensively shat on the notion of women as human beings; it seems evident that women’s rights are not such an antediluvian topic as Virginia Woolf had optimistically asserted 84 years ago. At least our own uber-enlightened post-medieval society pays lip service to the idea of women as something more than a God-given trinity of sexbot/slave/property. It isn’t by coincidence that our post-medieval society is also a post-religious one.
The second plank of splinterous wood to lodge itself firmly in the feminist eye has been the media treatment of Barack and Michelle Obama. Splashed all across the Independent and the Guardian are reports of Obama’s planet-saving negotiations, key speeches, aims and targets, and opinion piece after analysis after fancy graphic-bedecked charts scrutinizing his role in the moderately successful G20 outcome. Splashed across the same newspapers are columns devoted to the type of cardigan Michelle Obama was wearing, and her choice of shoes. One can only imagine that the Times Women Section had a field day; I personally found the coverage in the Guardian and the Independent too full of patronizing crap for words, so didn’t venture into tabloids/fake broadsheets for fear of unleashing a very portal to hell.
This week’s TOT comes a little later than expected, partly due to forgetting that it was my turn to write, but mostly to the recovery period required from last night’s gig, Yo! Majesty at Cargo in East London. Yo! Majesty are a lesbian hip hop duo, and if that wasn’t the nichest category since ‘feminist electro-punk bands that have featured Kathleen Hanna’, they’re Christian to boot – though riffling through the lyrics book to the CD I bought last night I can’t see much mention, let alone laudation, of a putative Grand Omniscient in songs such as ‘Leather Jacket’ and ‘Booty Klap’.
The pair hail from Tampa, Florida, and it’s clear that they are accustomed to audiences who express their appreciation of gut-shaking basslines and precision rapid-fire bullshit-blasting verbiage by means requiring considerably more energy than an on-the-spot shuffling of feet and a nod of the head (not too vigorous, less one’s carefully-coiffed ironic fringe should make contact with one’s half-pint of shandy). The atmosphere of a “fucking karaoke” bar was picked up by the pair repeatedly during the gig, not unfairly given the rivulets of sweat pouring down their faces after numerous displays of “rolling” and general freestyle acts of liberated ass-shakery, including the occasional, quasi-political flash of boob (our minds, we were told, were “not in the space for anything more”).
The audience’s unduly underwhelmed reception aside, the band proved themselves fairly devastating as a live act, with songs like ‘Don’t Let Go’ and ‘Booty Klap’ causing a collective front-row hernia, and levels of bass the effects of which can only be described as ‘vomititious’. The band comprehensively fulfilled their Myspace manifesto of “smashing against the sonic perimeter”, my hearing having only just returned to normal after a day of high-pitched screeching in my head (if I listen hard, I think I can still make out the occasional chorus of “rub your monkey” in amongst the chimes of tinnitus). While an unabashedly sexual pair of angry lesbian rappers may (for shame) stay out of reach of the tastes of the mainstream (I dream of the day when a politician admits to a bit of Yo Maj on their iPod), this should be only the beginning phase of Yo! Majesty’s sonic enlightenment, and ought to be a considerable blast to their arch-enemy “captain misogyny” in the process.