The Haunted Man
On “The Haunted Man”, Natasha Kahn’s now-distinct grandiosity finds the perfect balance between the colourful and the poignant. Channelling quasi-mysticism (not a bad thing) into off-kilter pop, her eye for both pretty, expansive symphonics is met with a closer, more personal (and weirder) edge. There’s still a sense of the primal and almost druid-like mythos that characterized her first two releases, but there’s an important charm and good-humoured quality about Kahn’s new creations.
“Oh Yeah” is a pretty good exemplar of this with it’s dense, harmonized chants of “Oh Yeah” before chirpy, orientalist keyboard stabs that Gang Gang Dance would be down with drop in. The humourously antiquated and serious-faced delivery of such a lyrical trope don’t come off gimmicky, just The chorus then coasts in a wash of warm synths, real expansive and imagistic.
It might be quirkier moments like these (as well as a generally eclectic sensibility in terms of instrumentation, time signatures and such) that leave room for comparatively ultra-sincere ballads like heartfelt lead single “Laura”. It’s sparse; just piano, vocals and a few distant strings and horns to back it up. In the hands of many others, the somewhat forlorn song (in subject – stardom, hedonism – and delivery) could go awry, but Kahn brings a definite realness and classic pop heartstring-tugging slant to it.
Another artist like Purity Ring’s injection of seductive, bass-heavy hip-hop aesthetics to a comparatively ethereal pop is a good comparison point for opening track “Lillies”. Crisp, clear drum beats punctuate a what is a terrifically well-crafted pop soarer. “Marilyn”’s even more spaced-out vibe is similarly littered with handclaps and melodic pulsations. Like “Lillies” and its strident chorus of “Thank God I’m Alive”, verse with more open space is immediately qualified with an ascension of strings, bassy synths and generally pretty transcendent melodies.
For a record that’s key strength is it’s full-bodiedness, “All Your Gold”s brittle disco is less successful, filled out with more arbitrary instrumental kooks between stilted beats.
Kahn has noted in recent interviews that this third Bat For Lashes release is in part about stepping back from an image “co-opted by the mainstream”, and there’s a new assuredness about tracks like “Laura” – not to mention the denser that are undeniably compelling. And with a well-realized set of electronic pop reference points as well as her own unique predilection for weird imagery and strange textures, “The Haunted Man” is her best yet.