Bat for Lashes
Our rock & roll heroes fell hard in the ’80s. Bowie, the Stones, Neil Young, et al lazed away the decade, encased in computer programming and a not-yet-perfected sheen. Now, pop artists are holding a collective do-over of the debauched decade. Turns out much of that pastel and neon aesthetic sounds pretty fabulous when filtered through modern tech and rebuilt by an inspired, scrupulous musician.
Natasha Khan, a.k.a. Bat for Lashes, is clearly a child of the Thatcher era. The haunting video for the Brit’s breakthrough single, “What’s a Girl to Do?” (2007), aped the bike chase from E.T., and her sophomore statement, Two Suns, comes veiled in synthesizers, echoes and New Romantic gauziness. “Find a map that takes me back,” Khan sings with breathy, operatic precision on the hypnotic doo-wop of “Good Love.”
But this rich, entrancing album far exceeds mere fashion and reminiscing. Duality is the theme, and the songs, based on piano, Autoharp and percussion, are fittingly yin and yang—bizarre yet restrained, sparse yet massive, glacial yet exhilarating, alien yet human. On the opening “Glass,” tribal animal-skin toms speedily throw drum punches like a boxer on a speed bag. The rest of the album sails more gently, as in the dark chain-gang gospel of “Peace of Mind.” It all makes her a bit of a Björk for people who can’t quite stomach Björk, without losing the creativity.
The wrath of Khan triggers deep soul pangs. She’s not stirring Gen Y nostalgia with pop-culture references so much as channeling, re-creating and studying the sensation. The stunning centerpiece, “Daniel,” is, no joke, a poignant ode to The Karate Kid. With slo-mo galloping machine beats set to Chariots of Fire, Khan could be writing from the perspective of Elisabeth Shue, the little girl Daniel Larusso saves from a typhoon in Part II, or the viewer. Whatever—it’s a crane-kick pose, frozen in amber. Her memory is far better than the actual fiction.