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Bat For Lashes

A new spate of cosmopolitan female singer/songwriter acts emerged out of the blue in the mid-00s (FLORENCE + THE MACHINE, FEIST, ST. VINCENT among the best known), although it was the singular BAT FOR LASHES (aka Natasha Khan) that proved the closest to anything in an alternative/indie scale. The unlikely offspring of an English mother (Josie) and top Pakistani squash player Rehmat Khan, Natasha was born in London on 25 October 1979; her parents split when she was only 11, leaving her to fend off racist bullies while at secondary school. From Hertfordshire to San Francisco and back to university in Brighton, BAT FOR LASHES was conceived during her long trips across the globe.
Inspired by minimalist master Steve Reich, but drawing comparisons to sad-core ethereal artists SIOUXSIE, BJORK, TORI AMOS and PJ HARVEY, her inaugural home-made release was the 2004 demo, `Who Stole Petretski’s Thunder?’, a product she handed out at her gigs. As her work teaching at a nursery school took the proverbial back seat, BAT FOR LASHES took precedence as the Echo Label unveiled her debut single, `The Wizard’, in May 2006. A taster for Nat’s acclaimed long-play outing, FUR AND GOLD {*8} – a subsequent Mercury Music Prize and Brit Award nominee (Breakthrough Act and Female Solo Artist) – the record spent one week in the Top 50. Augmented by folkie Caroline Weeks, Ben Christophers, producer David Kosten, among others (singer Josh T. Pearson of LIFT TO EXPERIENCE was in hand for tracks `Trophy’ and `Seal Jubilee’), the sullen and slender multi-instrumentalist shimmered delicately on chamber-folk, fantasy-pop highlights `Sad Eyes’, `Prescilla’, `Horse And I’ and `What’s A Girl To Do?’ (the latter her first 45 for the Parlophone imprint). Issued a year later in the States on Caroline Records, there was an addition of her soulful B-side cover of SPRINGSTEEN’s `I’m On Fire’; incidentally, later flip-sides produced renditions of `A Forest’ (The CURE), `Use Somebody’ (KINGS OF LEON), `Lonely’ (TOM WAITS), `Strangelove’ (DEPECHE MODE) and `Wild Is The Wind’ (Dimitri Tiompkin & Ned Washington).
While subsequently residing in Brooklyn, New York, and not in any immediate hurry to unveil her sophomore set (her first for US major Astralwerks), BAT FOR LASHES reconvened with her familiar friends for TWO SUNS (2009) {*8}. A resounding success all over the continent and Top 5 on home-soil (as was the Top 40, Ivor Novello-winning `Daniel’), Natasha’s conceptual confessionals had a certain spiritual and dramatic duality that espoused class and quality. It concerned her hedonistic alter-ego Pearl. Building up to her duet with the esoteric SCOTT WALKER on anchor piece, `The Big Sleep’, Nat was on another sphere on tracks `Glass’, `Pearl’s Dream’, `Siren Song’ and `Two Planets’.
Another long three years would pass by until 2012’s THE HAUNTED MAN {*8}. An album that explored her inner self, but exposed by all her naked beauty on the cover shot (her bits hidden by the hands and legs of an equally “nekid” man slung over her shoulders!), record retailers would bat more than an eyelid for this BAT FOR LASHES concept – GAGA and Miley were not impressed. The Top 10 (US #64) album again hinted on the “Pearl” aspect of her mind-set; the un-flowering of `Oh Yeah’ and follow-on piece `Laura’, earthy and intimate. Remarkably in some respects to SINEAD O’CONNOR or KATE BUSH (with hints of say, ANNIE LENNOX), Nat’s lush, fairytale ballad style was best served by the opening triumvirate of `Lilies’, `All Your Gold’ and `Horses Of The Sun’.
Examining more closely folk songs from overseas; one song in particular, `The Bride’, stemming from pre-revolution Iran, Nat took time away from BFL to issue a single version of the track with TOY’s Dan Carey, her producer. From this collaboration in 2013 to the pair’s (and TOY’s) psych-folk cosmo covers set in autumn 2015, under the eponymous umbrella of SEXWITCH, Khan was gearing up for her fourth album.
Named after the aforesaid 7-inch and an accompanying short film premiered at the Tribeca Festival, the Top 10 THE BRIDE (2016) {*7} (concerning a fictitious woman whose fiance was killed en route to the church) once more, added another dimension to the doom and gloom of some harrowing subject matter. Not since BJORK’s `Selma Songs’ set (aka indie movie, Dancer In The Dark) had one intercepted something so sombre and slightly shocking. From the opening nuptials of `I Do’ (also released as a single), to the grieving `In God’s House’ and `Widow’s Peak’, Khan’s own surreal honeymoon period was possibly of the fluttering and fragile variety. Immaculately picturesque and folk-balladry in its mournful concept, tracks such as `Honeymooning Alone’, `I Will Love Again’ and `Joe’s Dream’, just about said it all without raising the obvious spoiler alert.
Khan’s haunting and heart worn BAT FOR LASHES flickered from the moonlight again for album five, LOST GIRLS (2019) {*8}. Despite it failing to achieve Top 10 status (her decade-long run over), the stylish self-released set brought esoteric rhythms and vocal swoons to her cathartic electropop motif: imagine JUDIE TZUKE fronting PET SHOP BOYS (e.g. `Jasmine’, `So Good’ and the lush single, `Kids In The Dark’). And who else could she sound similar to in a song entitled `Vampires’: yes, SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES, or even The CURE. The Stateside-centric `The Hunger’ was the relocated L.A. lady at her most radio-friendly and cinematic, whilst `Feel For You’ was her at her most sexual and CHIC-ish.
© MC Strong/MCS Jul2016-Sep2019

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