There are certain albums that I associate strongly with a particular place or time in my life. Radiohead’s The Bends still makes me feel like an anxious, shellsuit-clad 12 year old with an ill-advised undercut on a school exchange to the Black Forest. Robbie Williams’s Escapology transports me across the world to the winding peninsula road to my parents’ house in New Zealand and the first time I visited them there at the age of 19. And Fur and Gold, the Mercury-nominated debut album by Bat For Lashes, reminds me of being in my mid 20s, in a new town, wondering just what I was supposed to do with my life.
Fur and Gold captured my imagination because Bat for Lashes – the stage name used by musician Natasha Khan – was well spoken, intelligent, talented and heavily influenced by some of my musical heroes (PJ Harvey, Kate Bush, Björk). And she made pop music that was melancholy and otherworldly, long before we’d heard of dear Florence and her Machine.
Khan followed up her debut with Two Suns, a concept album (you’ve got to admire a woman who can style out a concept album) that earned her a second consecutive Mercury nomination. Less sparse than Fur and Gold, Two Suns continued the haunting Bat For Lashes sound but delivered it over electronic beats provided by psychedelic pop band Yeasayer.
After a long wait – it’s been three years since Two Suns – Khan has released her new album, The Haunted Man, on 15th October. In the intervening years, she has been on tour with Coldplay, collaborated with Beck and soundtracked a Gucci advert. It’s fair to say Khan hasn’t been twiddling her thumbs but I’m glad that the wait for new material is over.
First single, "Laura", was released during the summer to high praise. It’s a stripped down, bare ballad with mournful vocals and piano and soaring strings, that has moved several grown men I know to tears. Khan followed that with "Marilyn" – a woozy track full of 80s inspired synth – which she offered as a free download.
The second official single, "All Your Gold", is released on 29th October and has already been unveiled on YouTube.
The Haunted Man is set to confirm Khan’s status as one of Britain’s most innovative and creative musicians. The album promises strings, synth, a male voice choir projected across a canyon, an appearance by Beck and electro and hip hop beats. And an album cover that quite literally lays Natasha Khan bare: the artwork, by photographer Ryan McGinley pictures her naked and makeup-free, with the weight of a man on her shoulders, at once vulnerable and strong. It’s one of my favourite album covers in a long time.
I can’t wait to find out what future memories this album will soundtrack for me.
Bat For Lashes will be touring the UK from 18th October. "All Your Gold" is released on 29th October on Parlophone, it is taken from the album The Haunted Man which is out now.
Image © Parlophone