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.