Bat for Lashes
The track, Jasmine, is available via:
London, U.K./Los Angeles, U.S.A.
Bat for Lashes/AWAL Recordings Ltd.
The album, Lost Girls, is available from 6th September. Pre-order here:
EVERY big artist I review…
IN THIS PHOTO: Bat for Lashes were in session for Mary Anne Hobbs on BBC Radio 6 Music recently/PHOTO CREDIT: @BBC6Music
allows me to step into a different genre and type of music. Today, I am focusing on Bat for Lashes. The alias of Natasha Khan, I have been following her music for quite a few years now. Before I get to her latest single, I want to talk about a few things relevant to her. I will discuss influences and the physical and emotional aspects that have compelled her music; the 1980s sounds and matching that with some nostalgic, intriguing concepts; the stage in a career where one makes decisions and has to decide whether they are going to go on; changing her landscape and the fact it might have reinvigorated something – I will end by suggesting where Bat for Lashes might head and what the future holds. Let’s start off with some inspirations for Khan; things that have compelled her sound. I think she is one of the most special and powerful voices in music at the moment and she always comes up with something deep and personal. I listened to her a week or so ago and she was performing a live session for Mary Anne Hobbs on BBC Radio 6 Music. It was a great performance and, with only one other musician alongside her, it was hard not to be moved and affected. The voice of Bat for Lashes is incredible and you can hear one or two different sources of inspiration. To me, Kate Bush is the name that stands out. That is not to say Natasha Khan is too clearly guided by Bush but it is clear the icon is a very important to her. I remember watching the Kate Bush documentary from 2014, Running Up That Hill, and seeing Bat for Lashes’ Khan talking about Bush and what she means to her. You can hear some parallels and, when I listen to a Bat for Lashes song, it is hard not to be reminded of Kate Bush. I think that is a good thing because, not only is Bush always welcome in modern artists but, rather than copy her voice or stray too close, Bat for Lashes’ sound mixes a bit of Bush but has so much unique personality.
PHOTO CREDIT: @BBC6Music
You just know music means everything to Khan and she wants to put her everything onto the page. I will talk about her physical relocation in a minute but, when it comes to her approaching album, Lost Girls, I think there is this new phase beginning. This is not to say the past few years have been tough for Bat for Lashes but one can hear a sort of rebirth happening. 2016’s The Bride is a remarkable album but, in terms of feeling and tone, Lost Girls is very different. Maybe 2016’s record was compelled by some personal loss or the feeling of disconnection. Although it was a concept album (mostly) about a bride figure, one could hear a lot of Bat for Lashes’ heroine in the mix. The album resonated with fans and critics alike and, when listening back, you are startled by the emotion coming through in the songs. I think Natasha Khan has taken stock and is entering a new stage. Although Lost Girls has plenty of big questions to ask and big emotions to tackle, it does appear more optimistic. That is just my impression, perhaps. Every great artist develops and changes through time and it is fascinating seeing how the music of Bat for Lashes grows and shifts. I have always had so much respect for Natasha Khan because she never stands still and does the same thing: each album seems like a whole new world; a way for her to explore new scenes, themes and ideas. She is one of the best songwriters you’ll hear because, not only does one hear that honesty and heartfelt expression but there is so much happening in the music. You listen to her tracks and feel one way upon the first listen. Go back in and you experience something new. It is wonderful when an artist/song can do that and, with Bat for Lashes, the music reveals fresh layers with every visit. I shall move on to a new theme now but, before I do, I would recommend people pre-order Lost Girls (the link is at the top of this review) because it is going to be an album you’ll definitely need in your collection.
PHOTO CREDIT: Jackie Dewe Matthews
I have been writing a few pieces regarding the music of now and how it differs to the stuff I grow up around. I was born in the 1980s but most of my memories come from the 1990s. I am not suggesting the music back then is superior to what is coming out now but so many artists for today are looking back. The 1980s is a decade that will never go out of fashion. I am not sure what it is but I think there is something wonderful comforting and uplifting about 1980s music. Maybe some of the tunes back then were cheesy but I think today’s music is so polished that artists want to bring it back to past days and create something that sounds a bit less modern. Especially in Pop music, there is this emphasis on certain sounds and I feel, for the most part, you get something that sounds too mechanical, processed and soulless. The 1980s’ sound is one that is influencing artists across so many different genres. For Khan, there are a couple of different ways she has brought that decade into the fold. Sound-wise, one can hear some nods to the 1980s. More than that, it seems like films of the 1980s has guided her latest album, Lost Girls. I really love the idea of the 1980s’ films rubbing off on an artist but, in very many ways, Khan is taking us back in time. When speaking with NME about Lost Girls, Natasha Khan had this to say:
“I was developing a script for a film called The Lost Girls. It was heavily influenced by 80s children’s films and vampire films, many set in Portland and California,” Khan explained. “But as the songs progressed, I felt like I was writing the film soundtrack. Music does tend to overtake film ideas, as it comes out much more easily.
“The Lost Boys, obviously, is a close link, and seeing LA’s hazy sunsets is making me think of films like ET and The Goonies. Moving to LA, I’ve basically been plonked inside the sets of all the films I loved as a kid.”
“I didn’t even know whether I was going to make an album again – I wanted to have a real break and leave everything behind me. And so when this album started happening, it was sort of a secret – and nobody really knew about it until it was nearly done”.
PHOTO CREDIT: Scott Legato
As I say, I think a lot of artists are incorporating the 1980s into their recent work – everyone from Shura to Muse have found inspiration in the 1980s and sort of spliced it with their own sound. It is not just nostalgia we are seeing here. I think the 1980s is maligned and unfairly treated; it has this reputation for being a bit naff but, as so many modern artists are bringing the 1980s to the next generation, I do think we need a reappraisal. If Lost Girls is a soundtrack to a film yet to see the light of the day, it makes me wonder when we might get that film. It is pleasing hearing 1980s strands in Khan’s latest work and I do really get drawn to this concept of a gang of biker girls in the U.S. in the 1980s. I have heard some interviews Khan gave recently and it seems like it might happen – a Khan-directed film where we see this gang in leather riding across America; maybe it will have a vampirical edge or it is a slice of 1980s throwback. Whatever form it takes, it seems like this concept has been in Khan’s mind for a long time. Even from the start, Bat for Lashes’ music has had a touch of the 1980s but, on the latest record, I think the influence of the decade is extending beyond music itself – there is a real love of the films and culture of the time. It will be interesting to see how the 1980s sort of materialises itself in Lost Girls and whether we see a flick from Natasha Khan in the future. Although it has been a very busy and changeable last couple of years for Bat for Lashes’ Natasha Khan, she has settled in a new city and seems to have, as I said, found new lease. Maybe the transition from the U.K. to the U.S. has opened her horizons and made her dream again.
Whatever the explanation, there was a moment when Bat for Lashes might not have existed – Khan feeling like it was time to call things off. If Lost Girls is, on one level, about Khan moving and settling somewhere fresh, there is a sense of discovery and loss on the album – trying to find identity and a place in a world that is changing. These themes have been present in quite a few Bat for Lashes albums. I want to bring in an interview from 2016 where Khan talked about The Bride and its influences:
“One of the album’s bravest elements is to question what exactly constitutes a happy ending for a woman. “At the beginning the bride thinks ‘happily ever after’ is her success at being able to fulfil this ritual, for everyone else to see she’s accomplished it. There’s a valid ‘happily ever after’ in that, but she can’t fulfil that, and by the end it’s much more about coming to another stage of maturity and realising that it doesn’t really matter what happens externally, unless you love yourself and feel some sense of self and grounding and connection to what makes you happy internally.”
It is interesting to consider why Natasha Khan moved to the U.S. but I think the landscape and the film industry are all reasons. She has expressed her desire to direct films and, with fresh vistas and views before her, it is going to spark the creative imagination. Our heroine is embarking on fresh challenges and it seems like she is a much better space. Before moving on, I want to bring in a recent interview she gave with The Guardian about Lost Girls and Khan’s musical start:
“You’ve talked about wanting this new album to be fun, full of romance and more commercial. How did it come about?
I had moved away from London, where I’d lived for seven years, and finished my contract with EMI. My plan initially was to go to Los Angeles to focus on scriptwriting and doing music for film. The first song on the album, Kids in the Dark, was actually written for a Stephen King TV series [Castle Rock] – but the music supervisor Charles [Scott] and I had such a good time that we decided to keep meeting. I didn’t even know whether I was going to make an album again – I wanted to have a real break and leave everything behind me. And so when this album started happening, it was sort of a secret – and nobody really knew about it until it was nearly done.
What switched you on to music?
I saw Michael Jackson on his Bad tour when I was nine, with my mum, and I remember his Thriller video coming out – that was really exciting. And later on, seeing how pop musicians like Kate Bush and David Bowie were using the more theatrical aspects of music had a big influence on me. At art college, the way we approached music was very closely linked with visual art and performance. With my first band I said, “I want us to make headdresses”, and so we’d go down to the haberdashery and buy a bunch of sequins and old lady brooches in antique shops. It was a hodgepodge and it probably didn’t even make sense, but I was trying to figure out how we were going to stand out on stage and express ourselves in a playful way.
By temperament, do you lean towards sunny Californian optimism or British gloom?
I go between the two. I think this album is demonstrating a side of me that’s happy and loves to dance, laugh and be silly – that’s a big part of who I am. I spent a long time trawling the depths and the darkness in my music. But being in LA, maybe it has liberated that side of me that is more fun”.
That feeling that Khan has been liberated and feels happier is good to hear. The 1980s, the darkness of L.A. and other themes will be explored in Lost Girls but I keep thinking of the future and this idea of Khan as a director. Maybe that will manifest itself as music videos and documentaries but I do think there is a path into films she could explore. It is obvious Khan has a real passion for film and has visions that extend beyond music. Maybe this is a few years in the future but one cannot bet against Khan directed some flicks very soon.
Before I come to reviewing her latest track, Jasmine, I wanted to spend some time with Bat for Lashes’ future. I will nod more to this in the conclusion but, as Natasha Khan has moved to a new city, I do think the next few years will be exciting. Khan has been asked about her age – not in a rude way – and the fact she turns forty very soon. For a lot of songwriters, this might suggest a new creative phase and adopting a new sound. Not that this stage of life is extreme but, in commercial terms, you will get eyebrows raised and many will jump to conclusions. It is a sad state of affairs when the media and radio stations sort of judge artists on their age and limit them. Khan is as vibrant and spellbinding as ever and I know her music will be played on the same stations now as they always have been. Rather than see the approach of forty as a musical transition and commercial shift - as Bat for Lashes will not be confined and ignored – I do get the feeling Natasha Khan is more optimistic about the future. I sense this longing for something deeper and more fulfilling than music alone. Maybe that is love or a long-term relationship but, as she is in the U.S., I think – as I have said – Khan will step into filmmaking and take on more creative responsibilities. It does seem like she is embracing life right now and I cannot wait to see what happens to her. There are few acts like Bat for Lashes and, now Khan is based where she is, there will be a lot of big gigs in the U.S.
From the opening notes of Jasmine, you are transported into the screen. The synths bubble and explore with colour but you get this real rush. I was instantly transported into a film and an opening scene. Such is the power and physicality of the introduction that one cannot help but be captivated and gripped. Compared to some of her previous tracks, Khan’s voice is more whispered and deep. We know that Lost Girls sort of refers to this idea of a gang of biker girls but I think there is a wider meaning to the album – mixing personal transition and an idea of discovery after disconnection. One feels Jasmine is this heroine that is looking for her place. The opening lines are paired with some great beats and synth lines. It is a heady brew and one that gives the vocal and lyrics push and fizz. Although some of the words are quite oblique – “Legs for days and bones of pearl” -, it seems like this woman might be fleeing from something. Maybe this is just my spin but I feel like Jasmine is this inspiring figure who, whilst she has come from a bad place, she wants to make a new life for herself. Khan sings about Jasmine taking her in the night and leading her somewhere; coming on strong and stepping into a new world. I think Khan and Jasmine might be one of the same; maybe they have found one another at a perfect time but it is fascinating to wonder and conspire. I love what Khan does with her voice in the verses. She is a lot softer and deeper than previous tracks and it is almost like she is narrating the plight of the heroine. The chorus changes the tone and we get a higher-pitched and more spirited delivery. The heady bliss of the chorus and all its amazing beats, synths and sounds infuses the imagination and you cannot help but project this 1980s film.
PHOTO CREDIT: Jackie Dewe Matthews
Everyone will have their own interpretation but, as I am reviewing Jasmine on its own rather than in the context of Lost Girls, maybe it will have different meaning in the context of the album. In my mind, this is a night-time scene where Khan is being led into the hills or being awoken by this strange and intoxicating woman. As the song progresses, the lyrics become more evocative and dark. Khan warns (us or herself) not to be seduced by “those baby blues”; the little girl “cuts your heart in two”. I was wondering whether Jasmine is this bad influence who is a seductress and hunter in the night or someone who opens your senses and eyes. Maybe there is a combination of the two. Thinking about Khan’s concept of biker girls, maybe Jasmine is this tough and killer figure who sort of beckons you in and then strikes. Everyone will see the song differently but that is the brilliance of a Bat for Lashes song: there is so much life and so many possibilities working away. Khan herself will know the truth but she never gives too much away. Instead, the listener has license to wander and they can come to their own conclusions. The brighter and more spirited chorus works well against the twilight verses – that are seductive and foreboding in equal measures. Towards the end of the track, Khan mentions a body bag “on eucalyptus hills” and sleeping pills; the fact Jasmine can cure your “night-time ills” and, when she blooms, she kills. I love the language used in the song and what visions come to mind. I get this picture of Jasmine as being slightly vampire-like but a free spirit who wants to liberate those around her. You come back to Jasmine time and time again because it such a heady and fascinating song. It is a brilliant number from Bat for Lashes and proves that Lost Girls is an album you will not want to miss out on. If you are unfamiliar with Bat for Lashes or a new convert, you will be addicted and engrossed because the music gets stronger the more you listen. It goes to show that Natasha Khan is a songwriter in a league of her own.
I have spoken a lot about Bat for Lashes and everything from the 1980s to reinvention. Looking ahead, I think there will be more albums from the always-intriguing Natasha Khan. I see films in her future but, from a musical perspective, maybe there will be more albums like Lost Girls. There was a time when Khan was going to jack things in and where she considered ending her career. Maybe that was a result of fatigue or a sense that she needed some time out. Every artist reaching that point where they wonder about the future and whether music is going to play a part. I think relocation has done Khan the world of good and it seems like she has found her footing. I do also think Bat for Lashes is underrated in the larger conversation and many overlook the potency and beauty of the music. The modern scene is very busy and competitive but, from the extraordinary Fur and Gold in 2006 to now, Bat for Lashes has stunned and amazed. I would recommend people check out previous Bat for Lashes albums and see how Khan has developed as a songwriter. That leaves us with the question of what comes next. In the immediate future, Bat for Lashes will be promoting the latest album and there will be a lot of positive reviews coming through. Khan’s grace and sheer talent has won the critical ear but, as she explores new ground, I think many more fans and followers will come on board. It looks like Khan is splitting her time between L.A. and the U.K. at the moment and you can see where Bat for Lashes are playing next. I do think there will be a lot more dates added to the diary and it will be a very busy future for Khan and co. I am writing a feature at the moment that asks whether modern music has lost its sense of fun and ability to lift the spirit. I do think, when we need that wave of joy and energy, we often look to the past and the songs we grew up around.
PHOTO CREDIT: David Levene
One can never dismiss modern music but I think there is too much emphasis on the serious; artists lacking that understanding that, even in these tough times, we all need something positive and uplifting to get behind. In many ways, Bat for Lashes can produce optimism and hope in the darkest moments. There is definite beauty to be found but, when you listen to Bat for Lashes, you do feel restored and driven. Even when you are listening to a more emotive and tear-eyed song that digs into the heart, one thinks about themselves and finds something hidden that was missing – a sense of purpose, place and soul. Maybe that is just me but I do think, as I said earlier, Bat for Lashes’ music has so much depth and longevity. You cannot judge it upon the first listen: people need to keep coming back to the songs because they are so arresting and nuanced. Maybe that nods to one of Khan’s heroes, Kate Bush, and the sheer attention and passion that go into every song. I will wrap up soon but I would recommend you get involved with Lost Girls and, if you can, go and see Bat for Lashes play. They are in London at the moment and there are chances for people here to go and see an incredible musical force. Jasmine is an exceptional song but not one that defines Lost Girls. I wonder whether you’d call the album conceptual because there are different stories and scenes that play out. It makes me curious as to whether we will see a Lost Girls film set in the 1980s in L.A. Many people would love to see what and I know it will be in Natasha Khan’s mind. Let’s end things here and, in a great year for music, Bat for Lashes are hitting hard and strong. I would not be surprised to see Lost Girls crowned one of the best albums of this year come December. One can hear this new spark in Khan’s voice and a fresh ambition in her music. It is an exciting time for her and it makes me wonder just…
WHERE she heads next.
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PHOTO CREDIT: Jackie Dewe Matthews
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