Bat for Lashes
Fur and Gold
at for Lashes (or Natasha Khan as she’s otherwise known) is the shiest singer I’ve ever seen. I first stumbled across her as the support act at a gig in March where she was barely able to whisper or look up from her piano throughout, gold makeup and headband only enhancing the air of strange fragility. But with two similarly timid band mates offering only minimal backing (largely handclaps and viola), she silenced the room with songs of an intensity way beyond the expectations of what her brand of twee-folk would have you imagine could. By all accounts it’s a trick she’s often repeated since.
Khan’s music is usually quite bare and doesn’t stray too far from regular song structures but is still rarely straightforward, full of unusual sounds and ambiguous meaning. There are some hints of Kate Bush and particularly Björk here, “Bat’s Mouth” is most obviously like the latter, working itself up to an extended, ecstatic whoop of joy set to music. Khan’s vocals share much of Björk’s naïve otherworldliness throughout as well, if not quite the elastic emotional range. But looking past the inevitable female singer-songwriter comparisons, there are closer kindred spirits. Fur And Gold’s galloping, commanding opener “Horse And I” is a less harsh cousin to Patrick Wolf’s “The Libertine.”
It’s a world that is crackling with magic, mystical and antiquated (when “I Saw a Light” comes across a dead couple in the back of a car, it’s probably the vehicle that’s the bigger surprise) but still full of life and danger. The sound is one of dark nights alone in the forest and days in junkshops looking for weird old instruments. Fur and Gold is admittedly not as strong and cohesive a record as Wind in the Wires. At its finest, though, it does show off a rare talent for haunting and evocative songwriting.
Single “The Wizard” best captures the sinister side of her sound, a nervous shuffle backing breathless repetitions of “the wizard comes” before a wobbly keyboard chorus and the line that lends it its startling power: “drink his blood and he’s our leader.” “Sarah” also gets beautifully evil, Khan plus ghostly backing singers telling us that “they cut out her heart when she was a little girl” before deciding to take over her life for the sake of it anyway. And rare break from the wilderness “What’s a Girl to Do?” is fantastic fun, built from ominous booms and harp over which Khan’s perfectly enunciated spoken verses detail her unhappiness with her lover in the most disdainful of tones. When she comes to sing the title question in mock exasperation, it’s with a deliciously assured sense that she already knows the answer. And what’s not to love about lines like “when your dreams are on a train to train-wreck town”? So while not yet the complete article, with songs like these Bat for Lashes may yet have reason to be much more confident.
Reviewed by: Iain Forrester
Reviewed on: 2006-10-02