Love, and the loss of love, consumes every second of Two Suns, the second album from Brighton-based Natasha Khan’s Bat For Lashes. But if you’re looking for anything as prosaic as a straightforward love song, you won’t find it here: Two Suns is every bit as heady, dramatic and fanciful as its predecessor Fur And Gold, its narratives of romance and heartbreak elevated into tales of knights in crystal armour, sailors lost at sea, and planets held in orbit; rich with imagery, and with sonic ambition to match. Kate Bush remains the obvious antecedent: Khan’s melodramatic vocals are a close ringer, and even relatively sparse moments like "Moon And Moon" are presented with grand, baroque arrangements of piano and strings, rich with detail. But such quasi-medieval textures are balanced out by neat excursions into electronic pop, best experienced on "Pearl’s Dream", noir-ish disco swathed in icy synthesisers. Finally, there’s an unexpected cameo on "The Big Sleep", a gothic epilogue that sees Scott Walker duet with Khan in his high, operatic quaver. A big step forwards from Bat For Lashes’ debut, and a suggestion of good things to come. ––Louis Pattison
Natasha Khan likes pretty things: fur, gold, melody, the moon, feathers, things that sparkle, chords that resolve. Since she began recording and performing as Bat For Lashes a few years back, the Brighton native has loosely assembled those things around her person like so many thrift store trinkets. Were it not for "What's a Girl to Do?", the lone song from her otherwise-too-precious 2006 debut to suggest that she might have the chilly songwriting charisma to match her outward appearance, it could have been easy to write Khan off as nothing more than an over-reaching asthete.
Actually, to be honest, that temptation remains. Khan's aesthetic is such a perfectly struck balancing act between earth mother hippie mystic and post-modern Gen Y art student (see: the cover for her latest single "Daniel", which depicts her on a beach, shivery and windswept, with a painting of The Karate Kid's Daniel LaRusso adorning her entire naked back) that it's difficult to forget about the sheer workaday craft that must go into constantly seeming so effortlessly, artfully rumpled. Nonetheless, as of Two Suns, her second full-length album, all of that takes a backseat. A significant step forward from her debut, Two Suns is home to some of the year's most thrilling music so far.
Khan's real breakthrough might simply be her willingness to wear her influences more brazenly. One needn't have any more than a basic working knowledge of female innovators from the past few decades to be able to spot the ghosts lurking around this stage. The strident piano chords and lone snare of "Traveling Woman" echoes PJ Harvey's desolate roadsongs, while "Moon and Moon"'s delicate piano playing and cabinet-reverbed backing vocals evoke early Tori Amos. Elsewhere, with its pummeling rhythms, double-timed handclaps, glass harmonica trills and vocal histrionics, the moonstruck rave-up "Two Planets" owes its entire existence to Bjork. But even in the moments where those influences risk running on the wrong side of overt, they never feel stolen or unearned. Just as Khan seems most comfortable when she's adorned in a patchwork of styles, eras, and ideologies, this record feels more satisfying and fully formed for its overt cutting and pasting of those different sensibilities.
What's more heartening, though, is that during Two Suns' highlights, Khan has few peers. I could probably fill this entire space just writing about "Glass", the album's aggressively propulsive opener, and about how its strange mix of elements (chamber pop, prog metal, new age-- what?) magically coalesced into some entirely new genre that I wish existed and yet still can't quite wrap my brain around. Then there's the booming "Sleep Alone", which, with its rusty guitar licks, Knife-inspired synths, buzzing basslines and floorboard percussions, feels kind of like a sea shanty circa 2074. Or the aforementioned "Daniel", the album's first single, which marries brittle, 80s-influenced electro and an inspired viola arrangement with what has to be, hands down, one of the most insidious choruses of the year.
For all that, though, the album's most vindicating moment comes at the end. Clocking in at just under three minutes long, closer "The Big Sleep" consists of a swoonsome duet between Khan and a suitably broody Scott Walker. Accompanied by nothing more than a stormy piano coda, the pair dip and dive around each other, stringing out syllables, dancing around each others' voices and generally soaking in the drama. Not only does Khan hold her own, there are moments when she holds his, too. That she's capable of doing so is evidence enough that we should be paying attention.
— Mark Pytlik, April 10, 2009