Lead Review: Amy Pettifer On Bat For Lashes’ The Bride

The Bride

In Natasha Khan's latest outing under the moniker, Amy Pettifer finds Bat For Lashes with her influences on her sleeve and her music on high-narrative form — a different story, set in a familiar sonic universe

A marriage ceremony is the performative utterance to end them all. Words become actions, promises become visions – the rosy tinted shades of things to come. People also become questions and answers – halves to be completed – but there is no such luck for the titular Bride of Natasha Khan’s latest album (her fourth under the name Bat for Lashes) whose narrative follows a prenuptial tragedy that leaves her roaming the desert highway, a lone question left hanging – unasked and unanswered.

Opening track ‘I Do’ is glistening and spare against harp strings; it sounds like solitary contemplation, setting up a mood of dewy-eyed innocence and blissful peace that’s roundly shattered in the torrid middles of the record. Following it, ‘Joe’s Dream’ is a double edged premonition in which an avenging angel troubles the groom’s sleep while his bride-to-be pleads with fate “don’t say goodbye” in a mournful call and response, its chorus repetitious like practised vows. The Twin Peakesian three-note coda is some kind of elemental key that has me singing along at the very first listen. This is a hymn you didn’t know you knew.

With the screech of tyres the dream is over before it begins and the Bride flees the church, setting in motion a melodic arc that takes you from despair to abandon, from numbness to hope, all the while guided by Khan’s voice, so satisfyingly capable of carrying a torrent of emotion and atmosphere within it.

The record is rich without being ostentatious, thrumming with surf guitar, soft piano and skittering drums that sound like kicked up dust. Like its sonic bedfellows – Yo La Tengo’s And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out, Nick Cave’s The Boatman’s Call, The Cranberries’ Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?The Bride is moodily spacious and dramatically complete. To keep things so musically spare is a bold move but it works brilliantly – Khan sounding as utterly alone as her character, echoing gravity.

The album foregrounds her prowess as a story teller (an accompanying short film titled I Do written and directed by Khan premiered at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival); and while you could criticise her reliance on a fairly narrow melodic palette – ‘Sunday Love’ being a direct echo of the perfect 2009 single ‘Daniel’ – it is difficult not to become swept up in the multi-dimensions of the tales she weaves.

At the centre of the album is ‘Widow’s Peak’, a spoken word piece with fragments of genius like “the secret of a dream is to look for a door”; then there’s current single ‘Sunday Love’ which somehow sounds exactly like running, or rather being chased; its lyrics suggesting some toxic mix up of carnal desire and religious fervour.

The latter half of the album is less toothsome but no less satisfying, ‘I Will Love Again’ is underpinned by a heart/drum beat that sounds like life returning and ‘If I Knew’, the poignant, central ballad which works as parallel to opener ‘I Do’ but with fresher battle scars.

For those fond of the universe of elemental magic and forest spirits prevalent in early Bat for Lashes records, fear not, The Bride still exists on a plane fully open to other registers – visions, dreams, ghosts and air. But there is a crushing earthliness to it all; Khan speaks of the moment when, to quote writer Amy Liptrot, ‘life is getting sadder but more interesting’.

The melodies and moods that have become Khan’s signature seem to skilfully shift in resonance from song to song, like elemental building blocks that can be reshaped to form new architectures. Her great strength is in imbuing her music with a visual essence, an act of sonic trickery that drags pictures from the dark recesses of the listener’s mind and pulls them urgently by the sleeve into the depths of the tale.

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