While on vacation in July, I had two long flights ahead of me and loaded myself up with some magazines. Out of the 4 magazines at hand, three of them mentioned Bat for Lashes. That gives you some idea of the hype surrounding the act, created by Pakistani-born Natasha Khan. Every article on her always name-checked two other female singers: Björk and Kate Bush. However, every article also had to mention Khan’s fashion choices so that gives you an idea on how musically inclined these publications were. Still, these articles did their job: I was curious.
When I first listened to Fur and Gold, I understood the comparisons to Björk and Kate Bush, but I didn’t necessarily agree with them. Natasha Khan’s voice certainly is stunning and she does have a penchant for dramatic flourishes, but I found her to be more restrained than either Björk or Bush. Khan conceptualized this album as something to start playing at dusk and finishing at sunlight, yet I found myself thinking that the dark could stand to be a little darker. That is not to say that Fur and Gold is a bad album, on the contrary it is a rather impressive debut that shows a great deal of potential in the artist.
The album begins with a Renaissance Faire-y harpsichord on “Horse and I.” Thankfully, the song only flirts with hokey Renaissance Faire flare and the tight military-like drum fills acts as a nice contrast. The song recalls last year’s Kate Bush-ian My Brightest Diamond’s Bring Me the Workhorse, as Khan indulges in the dramatics. However, it’s really in her vocals, which are allowed to be dramatic. The band is surprisingly restrained and just as you want the music to break free, it pulls right back in. This is a common issue with many of the songs on the album. This is where the comparisons to Björk and Kate Bush get me. Both Björk and Bush go out on a limb with their muses, yet Khan’s music seems to pull in and comes off as very self-aware.
One of the best tracks is “Trophy.” It plods along over a subtle drum beat and at times reminded me of a slicker version of Cat Power’s lo-fi efforts. It is exquisitely dark and the male harmonies perfectly offset Khan’s elegant vocals. It’s as if Lavender Diamond’s more monotonous songs wore black eyeliner and looked like Siouxsie Sioux. “Tahiti” is the most musically ambitious song on the album, but falters with Khan’s awkward lyrics. Better is “What’s a Girl to Do?” Khan speaks the verses, something that I always saw as tricky territory. Luckily enough, the spoken verses work incredibly well here and make it a fun and interesting listen as she admonishes a former lover.
“Sad Eyes” has a lot of potential toward being a very powerfully sad song, but somewhere along the lines, Khan seems to get lost in her own gothic atmosphere and the words fail to resonate. “Priscilla” fares much better as it takes a more upbeat tone and becomes a very catchy pop song. One of my other favorites is “Seal Jubilee.” Khan’s vocals echo with the reverb laden guitars and create a deliciously creepy atmosphere. While I may want some songs to push further into the dramatics, “Seal Jubilee” actually benefits from the band’s restraint as it recalls early PJ Harvey songs.
Throughout Fur and Gold, Khan reminds one of several female singer-songwriters. There are touches of PJ Harvey here, a little Tori Amos there, some sprinkles of Chan Marshall and a pinch of Kate Bush. Natasha Khan has a beautiful voice and I’d love to hear it as she comes into her own as an artist. Right now however, she seems too self-conscious to really explore what she’s capable of. Vocally she allows herself to skirt the edge, but musically, she occasionally falters. At times, it sounds too comfortable in its own skin and doesn’t fully embrace the gothic and dramatic tendencies that Khan tries to go for. In the end, I hope Bat for Lashes can shake whatever is holding them back because they have the potential of being a really stunning band.
MP3: “Horse and I”