When you first hear the music of Bat For Lashes, you may think you've heard it before ... somewhere. There's something uncanny about many of the songs, with their soaring vocals and pensive melodies -- they sound familiar, perhaps from childhood, perhaps from even earlier. Going far beyond simple nostalgia, Bat For Lashes' debut album Fur and Gold plunges us into a dreamscape filled with elements of our own subconscious.
"Horse and I" opens Fur and Gold in fine form, with an urgent harpsichord line anchoring martial drums and staccato strings -- the perfect accompaniment to a vision of Joan of Arc. Throughout the album, many of the lyrics reflect an obsession with the stuff of myth and legend, with songs about arcane objects like a trophy of fur and gold, wizards and court jesters. And the music matches, with echoey production and medieval touches like harpsichord, harp and timpani adding to the atmosphere greatly. But the flourishes of the archaic are added delicately and never overwhelm the simple and straightforward songwriting. Similarly, the lyrics may tempt you to envision a fantastical landscape of talking beasts and magical forests, but it remains a dimly lit backdrop for the very modern emotions at center stage. The visual treatment similarly mixes old and new, whimsy and darkness as in the video for "What's a Girl to Do" with its BMX biking anthropomorphized woodland creatures.
Bat For Lashes is the solo project of Natasha Khan, an art schooled Brighton resident who is remarkably consistent in her love for sequined headbands and facepaint, on and off the stage. With an all-girl backing band, songs about girls ("Prescilla," "Sarah") and loads of feminine imagery, Khan has invited comparisons to other strong female artists, like Bjork, Kate Bush, Cat Power. I would add Mary Timony and Broadcast to that list. The comparisons are warranted, but luckily, the music is in no way derivative, and Khan has also mentioned her time in San Francisco and exposure to the Beats as formative. Perhaps most prominent among her influences are British literary fantasists like J.R.R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Frances Hodgson Burnett, even Enid Blyton's fantasy stories like The Enchanted Wood.
Bat For Lashes has been scoring acclaim of the dizzying kind most artists can only dream of (Bjork and Thom Yorke have professed fandom, as has Devendra Banhardt). And Fur and Gold was up for the Mercury Prize this week, putting Khan in excellent company with fellow nominees Amy Winehouse, the Klaxons, who won the prize on Tuesday, and another of my favorites, Maps, who have put out a gorgeously shoegazey delight of an album in We Can Create. Recorded as part of the run up to the prize giving, you can hear a lovely update of "Higher Than The Sun" from Primal Scream's Mercury Prize winning album Screamadelica that features Bat For Lashes along with Maps and another nominee.
But even better, Bat For Lashes will be in town next month, playing at Slim's on October 11th. Don't miss your chance to hear Bat For Lashes in person. Ticket information (at slimstickets.com).