Bat for Lashes : The Dream of Delphi

Bat for Lashes The Dream of Delphi review

It’s comforting, somewhat, that Natasha Khan, aka Bat For Lashes, seems to have settled into her role as a stylistic descendant of Kate Bush and Björk. Those comparisons in the dawning of her career, especially the spellbinding twofer of her debut Fur and Gold into the monumental Two Suns, felt prescient, promising, like the world was waiting for her to transform. In a sense, she never did: she remained in those sonic worlds, the fantasia of the post-prog world, where fantastical synth soundscapes marry to singer-songwriter material that feels more indebted to a folk songbook. A keen ear might hear a bit of Jon Anderson, especially his collaborative records with Vangelis, in her work; the icy synth sounds, be they fog banks or the crispness of winter air, certainly imply a certain Grecian sensibility. Which makes the title of this record, a play on her daughter’s name, to whom it is dedicated, feel all the more apt.

Even without knowing her daughter’s name, the subtext of the record is abundantly obvious. Be it song titles or snatches of lyrics, the topic of motherhood drips like melted wax over this material. Synths bob and burble like Soothing Sounds for Baby, that historical proto-techno electronic set of records from the 1960s. “Letter to my Daughter” bears a striking resemblance to “Nobody” by Mitski, which, in fairness, everyone was listening to through the pandemic; even with a shared melody, the focus of the material is deeply reconfigured here. And yet this record seems to be a divisive one in a certain regard. The opening track, as witchy and robust as any of her previous material, sets the stage for a grand progressive pop record, the same kind she’s built a career from. But what follows is both a far shorter record than we are used to from her, just over half an hour in the song cycle, but also a far more elliptic one. Sure, The Bride and Lost Girls may have been based on screenplays that never seemed to make it to the screen, but even when you couldn’t make out the precise contours of the story, it felt emotionally clear enough. Meanwhile here, between the number of instrumental tracks and impressionistic pianos, synths, and wordless vocals, it can be sometimes a more frustrating and unfocused listen than her previous, melodically driven work.

That said, while indisputably the record suffers from a decreasing sense of clarity as the time ticks on, it is an album that rewards patience. One gets the sense that Khan is moving slowly in her head toward a space that all the great predecessors of her ilk have before, yearning in some way to write some great expansive instrumental piece, some neo-classical or just-barely-prog great soundscape to explore a space where words seem to fail. Because, again, in her defense: how does one render the monumentalism of the heart that comes with the birth of a child without sounding paradoxically both grandiloquent and quaint? Hell, I suffer this same curse when I’m talking about mere albums; the idea of tackling a topic as life-changing as it is cliched in its depictions feels suffocating. (There is a saying: It is as easy to write about love as it is hard to write about love well.) Approaching this record like a pop record will find you crashed upon its shoals and shores; approach like an ambient record, like a progressive record, and suddenly it opens up.

In part because the topic of motherhood feels often more like a shell surrounding the real heart of the album, which is an aimless and anxiety-ridden heart, staring down at a child she loves more then life itself as her relationship falls completely apart and realizing she has no idea what’s coming or what to do. It’s reminiscent of that great sense of The Cure at their most romantic, not riven with sorrow but instead standing eerily still in a fogbank, caught by the crook of the psychopomp on the shores between the waters of life and death, unable to move in either direction, stopped, staring. Will it dethrone her two best records, Two Suns and Lost Girls, from their perch? No. Will it conquer the peaks of her singer-songwriter inclination in Fur and Gold and The Haunted Man? No. But there is an intimacy in minor works, both in their creation and their imbibing. The unguardedness here is ill-fitting of a major work; too little is communicated. But that lack of communication belies also a sincerity of its creation, that this is an intimate window into her specific anxieties and desires around parenthood. This, in its way, is rewarding too.

Label: Mercury KX

Year: 2024

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Bat for Lashes The Dream of Delphi review

Bat For Lashes : The Dream of Delphi

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