Bat For Lashes - The Haunted Man

Here’s a weird and indefensible but completely genuine reaction that much-anticipated new albums sometimes provoke: I wish it was better. It’s one thing if a band you like suddenly shits the bed on a new album; God knows, that happens enough. But when someone follows up a record that hit a chord deep within you with an album that’s merely good, or even vaguely great, the reaction doesn’t make as much sense. That’s when you start judging it by the yardstick that only ever existed inside your brain. It’s a shitty reaction because it involves judging the album based on what you wish it was, rather than what it was. But it’s a reaction that’s been happening more and more often lately — one that’s collectively rippled around just about every big, important non-Frank Ocean album of 2012. Well, here it is again: Bat For Lashes’ new The Haunted Man, which comes more than three years after Two Suns, is not Two Suns. It’s still a good album; it’s just not Two Suns.

Two Suns was the moment where Natasha Khan made The Leap — transforming from a promising post-Kate Bush studio-pop auteur with one great video behind her into an utterly worthy target of obsession. The songs on Two Suns were doomy, fragile folk-pop things, psychedelic in the gentlest possible way while still retaining a sort of ritualistic mystery. They were songs that the pagan cult in the Wicker Man remake could’ve sung together around the bonfire if the Wicker Man remake had been any good. Natasha Khan never quite stared into the abyss on that album, but she constantly gave it a sort of flirty side-eye. And then there was “Daniel,” a song that immediately hit like a drug, one that my wife played over and over in the hospital the night we were waiting for my daughter to be born. It’s pretty embarrassing for a music critic to admit this, but sometimes a song will hit some uncanny nerve in your brain. It’ll dance around in your gut for weeks at a time, and you won’t really be able to conjure words to explain why or how it’s happening. That happened with “Daniel,” and that song is a lot to live up to.

Well, there’s no “Daniel” on The Haunted Man — or, if there is, it’s taking its sweet time revealing itself. The album is recognizably the work of the same person, and it’s got a lot of the same strengths working for it. Khan layers sounds expertly, and every second on the album is lush and gooey, music for sighing. On “Marilyn,” she flits between glitchy electronic gizmos and elegiac pillows of strings so assuredly that you almost don’t notice when it’s happening. The title track has a madrigal-style chorus that comes in halfway through and gives the song a bizarre druidic kick. “Rest Your Head” has a tense, springy Chicago house skeleton that shouldn’t work but does. Even the stop-start bassline on “All Your Gold” — so jarringly and distractingly similar to the one on Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used To Know” — blends its way into the song’s orchestral forest soon enough. It almost doesn’t bother me anymore, though I’m still pretty puzzled as to what the hell happened there.

But for the most part, the songs underneath all that gorgeous sound-layering don’t grab me the way the ones on Two Suns did. There’s one big exception here: First single “Laura,” where Khan’s voice breaks and shivers while a stark piano and a few delicately arranged woodwinds offer consolation. It’s one of those mysterious things that resists interpretation but seems to hint at huge, hidden feelings, and it sticks with me in a way the other songs on the album don’t. It would’ve been great if Khan came back with another album full of songs that kicked me in the soul the way this one does. But maybe I should just be happy to get another good album out of Khan and shut up about the rest of it.

The Haunted Man is out 10/23 on Capitol.

Comments (19)
  1. I agree. When each song ended i kept on feeling like I wanted more out of it. So far the only satisfying track remains to be “Laura”.

  2. I didn’t like it at first (and I still don’t really like Horses of the Sun, which is the weakest on the album) but with repeated listens it has grown on me more.

  3. ‘lillies’ is my fave track on there so far

  4. Of course it’s good but as you are writing, it could be better and thats a little bit sad.
    Songs like Winter Fields and Rest Your Head have so much potential.

  5. When I listened to it the first time I thought ‘oh good, the album of the year has finally arrived’.

    I think it and she are just brilliant.

  6. Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

  7. LiliesLiliesLiliesLiliesLiliesLiliesLiliesLiliesLiliesLiliesLiliesLiliesLiliesLilies

  8. I haven’t warmed up to most of the album yet, but holy moly Laura is an instantaneous big pile of perfect.

  9. deep sea diver reminds me of hyperballad (and i don’t know why)

    marilyn, laura, lilies, a wall, the haunted man… A LOT of great songs here

  10. I find it interesting that this post started off talking about how expectations can muddle your enjoyment of a new album… I feel like this happens to me a lot, and while it is a sucky thing, it’s refreshing to hear that I’m not the only one who encounters this frequently (I guess it makes sense that I wouldn’t be the only one, but it’s not like it’s something people talk about). And to some extent, making one excellent album that really connects with people is no easy feat, much less making two, so I kind of figure that past that either whatever that artist makes isn’t going to live up to the album or two of theirs I love most, or that the new work is going to move a little bit to the left of whatever qualities I like about their music. Not that I’m not going to give it a chance and not that I’m pleasantly surprised sometimes, but it does seem to happen a lot.

    So yeah, I’m not super enthused about this album yet, but I didn’t really feel like I was going to be given what I had heard. I’m sure it will grow on me. Also, it does sound like she’s moved on to something less ethereal and beat driven than her previous stuff… I thought the description of Two Suns as her Big Leap was interesting too, since to me it was more of an extension of what she had started on Fur and Gold. Obviously it was more ambitious and songs like Daniel are rock solid examples of songwriting, but I didn’t think of it of fulfilling potential since I think Fur and Gold did an excellent job of that on its own.

  11. Really? Laura? for me it gets old very quickly it is the one i don’t like as much as the rest of the songs anymore. Really liking Oh Yeah and Lilies.

  12. Should have done a premature evaluation for good kid mAAd city. One of the best albums of the year.

  13. I dont know whats up with the average reviews this album is getting. While indeed two Suns had “catchier” singles, this album works better as a complete collection of songs. Laura, Oh yeah, a wall are amongst the standouts for me.

    Looking forward to catch her live soon.

  14. Love the song All Your Gold, but i can’t stand her vocals on it. it sounds like a choir girl trying to sing a Hole song. The vocals irritated me on most of the record. The lyrics were really, really, weak too. I get the concept she’s pushing, but its really too literal in a few places. I’m trying to let the album grow on me, but i’m pretty disappointed.

  15. I honestly disagree completely with this review. I love stereogum because the reviewers tend to objectify the critics, but I feel this one didn’t do it at all.
    First, if you’ve got expectations with a new album then you’re never gonna be satisfied. I love Natasha’s songs and stories since Fur and Gold, and I am always looking for her creativity to push her to explore new sounds.
    I wasn’t looking for daniel 2.0 in this album, I don’t need that.
    This albums gives me the chills, and it even makes me cry. It’s got a nordic, morning-late afternoon feeling to it that it’s seriously hard to describe.
    I feel it as a complete viking folk tale, and I’m in love.
    I’m in love with how she makes a completely homogenic waltz between so many objects and instruments and styles on each song, and somehow it ends up being grand and magnifique.
    I’m totally in love with The Haunted Man, Lillies, Marilyn, Laura and Oh Yeah.

    Hell, Oh Yeah could be one massive single…
    I recommend you to re-listen to it, free of prejudice and expectations.

  16. Perfectly agree with Amilcar Schell… this album is NOT Two Suns and can never be… They are two excellent bodies of work… One can’t top the other as they’re excellent at what they are in their own different territories… You must not compare them…. This album has got it’s instant moments “Lillies” hit me on first listen although upon more listens it revealed it’s mystical sheen… I’m still puzzled how you didn’t even mention 2 of this album’s masterpieces… That’s Oh Yeah & Winter Fields…. The latter as well as the title track are two of the most captivating BFL moments to date… Add that with Laura and you’ve got a shivering centerpiece to this album… Oh Yeah reveals more on the sensual side of Natasha Khan while Marilyn is possibly the boldest most confident song I’ve ever heard from them… I agree with the fact that there’s no “Daniel” in here but it would sound out of place in this tighter body of work… The Haunted Man stands on it’s own with so many stand out songs, each one complimenting the other to form one of the best albums of the year! *****

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