Bat for Lashes: The Bride

Scott Wallace
29th Jun 2016

On her fourth album under the name Bat for Lashes, Natasha Khan has crafted an abstract and often heart wrenching story. Throughout the sonically and thematically cohesive concept album, she plays the titular character of The Bride, exploring the ways in which the happiest time in a woman's life can also be her most vulnerable.

Vulnerability is profoundly important to the record's sound and ideas. Previous Bat for Lashes albums were built around luminous pop, with sprightly drums and shimmering synths dancing around Khan's elegant and delicate vocals. Here, she has stripped back her sound to the barest essentials right from the beginning. Little more than strangely artificial harp glissandos prickle Khan's voice on "I Do" as she ushers listeners into the fascinating and oddly muted spaces of The Bride.

By keeping the arrangements on the record simple, Khan has wisely pulled focus to her lyrics. The record tells a simple, but very emotional tale of love and less, and while the lyrics are often direct and even prosaic, they include many spine-tingling moments. One particularly notable instance is on "Joe's Dream," in which a portent of impending disaster is referred to as "God's search light." Khan has a gift for understated yet poetic storytelling.

Despite the simple approach, Khan has still scattered the records with shifts in mood and tone that are highly engaging and help to tell the story of the wounded bride. A twinkling synth arpeggio that buoys the chorus of "In God's House,"for example, is a gorgeous touch that creates excellent contrast with the gentle drift of the verses. Later on, a sense of fidgety tension that is permeated with anger and guilt runs beneath the heartbreaking duo of "Honeymooning Alone"and "Sunday Love."

Khan's recent work on side project Sexwitch, for which she was heavily influenced by traditional music from Morocco, Iran, Thailand and the United States, seems to have carried through to the record's middle section, which also happens to be the most abstract and inwardly focused section of The Bride's narrative. The ghostly "Close Encounters" and the claustrophobic "Never Forgive the Angels" are formed of hovering textures of strings and voice that play with harmony, counterpoint and discord in unusual and unexpected ways.

The Bride is not an album focused on dynamics or immediacy, and as such it is intended for very dedicated listening. The earthy, intentionally murky production and Khan's keening soprano are matched beautifully, and show an excellent sense of restraint while still remaining engaging. Arguably though, the record's final third, in which it should hit hardest, lacks a proper payoff. As a concept album The Bride is strong on narrative, but the question remains whether the end result is as satisfying as it could be, with the emotional apex falling short of the set up.

Overall, Bat for Lashes' ambition has resulted in a poignant and striking examination of the ways in which love, and the declaration of it, can open our hearts to the greatest tragedies. Similarly, this very record was a risk for Natasha Khan, and when it succeeds it is a spectacular demonstration of her remarkable talents and her very unique voice as an artist.

The Bride is out on CD, vinyl and digital formats on Friday July 1st.