On Bat for Lashes’ fourth album, Natasha Khan assumes the eponymous role of The Bride, never to be married to her partner, Joe, who dies at the wheel before reaching the church on the day of their wedding. This is announced by an unsubtle sound effect (‘keeerash!’) at the start of the ‘Wild at Heart’-like, Lynchian-guitar-twanged ‘Honeymooning Alone’. It starts The Bride‘s journey through grief, acceptance and, ultimately, self-love.
The Bride is a concept album with a capital C and one which at first seems somewhat held down by its own conceit. Calling the album’s opening track ‘I Do’ means there’s no room for any ambiguity and shows us that The Bride is as much a singular vision musically and thematically as Khan’s alter ego from last year, SEXWITCH. For many who found Bat for Lashes’ last album, 2012’s The Haunted Man, so nuanced and diverse, this might send warning signals, but Khan is again moving forward and refining her distinctive sound.
The prologue section of The Bride uses the established tropes that Khan has constructed since her debut: harpsichords, a mandolin and claustrophobic, dark electronics meshed with an otherworldly medievalist time period. It’s not really until the aforementioned judder of ‘Honeymooning Alone’, though – with this being a crucial part in the album’s narrative – that Bat for Lashes begins to offer up what could be considered stand-alone tracks. It’s at this point, too, that the album inclines almost entirely towards ballads.
‘Sunday Love’ proves to be the one exception to an album full of spectral, chamber pop and is a toughly driving, electro companion to 2009’s ‘Daniel’. It’s a superb example of Khan’s exceptional rhythmic and melodic ear. From here on in, the remaining seven songs are all intertwining parts of a richly romantic dream world, a struggle for the embrace of an individual’s internal strength versus the constant object of distraction.
‘Never Forgive the Angels’ revisits Khan’s fondness for cavernous and doomed 1960’s girl group aesthetics and ‘If I Knew’, somewhat appropriately, uses the kind of slippery, synthetic bass last heard on Kate Bush’s ‘Mother Stands for Comfort’. Bush made the definitive conceptual record with her astounding 1985 The Ninth Wave piece and it’s difficult not to hear her influence in general on Khan’s records – ‘Laura’ is a spectacular Bush indebted song and performance – and particularly on The Bride. ‘Widow’s Peak’ is an entirely spoken track documenting the shifting of psyches and is reminiscent of The Ninth Wave‘s often terrifying mid-section, but this is cumbersome and unnecessary. ‘Lands End’, however, fantastically invokes an almost diabolical sense of unease with the sweet strings being insidiously at odds with Khan’s vocal melody.
Along with the staccato synths of ‘Sunday Love’, ‘I Will Love Again’ brings a sliver of sonic modernity to the final stretch of the record with its R&B bass thuds and includes an ominous male vocal joining Khan’s. ‘Close Encounters” ambient strings shimmer with Badelementi-style grace and the deeply romantic ‘In Your Bed’ is probably the album’s best song. Khan sounds incredible throughout all of this. Her vocals on ‘If I Knew’ are as haunting as you might expect, yes, but she sounds supernaturally possessed here with a powerful range that can devastate.
Bat for Lashes makes music that is literal, other-worldly and character inhabited. The Bride, which promises a full-length film to accompany it at some point, is Khan’s purest vision of this so far. Its occasional failure to fully engage in the protagonist’s dilemmas never distracts from this being some of the most beautiful and deeply felt music heard this year.