Bat For Lashes’ ‘The Haunted Man’ Brings Natasha Khan Into the Real World

“Listening to the album at times feels like being pulled out of a whirlpool, then watching it swirl so nicely behind you.”

“Thank God I’m alive,” Natasha Khan cries. Her voice is strained; you can hear her ribs and eyes tense. Then again: “Thank God I’m alive,” this time with craw, with more insistence. The music drops out as you’d expect, and when it returns it’s the sort of strings and brass, pomp and orchestrations that’s even more expected. But it’s not overwrought, and nor is the sentiment; mention death enough in a ballad like “Lilies,” and you’re setting yourself up for either grief or catharsis. The words still shock, though, especially while bursting from The Haunted Man’s first track when such lines would traditionally dwell in the doldrums of side two. It’s too much emotion, too early; it’s utterly ambiguous in the most obvious way. And it’s absolutely necessary.

Khan’s earned it, after all, during a lonely post-tour slump when work was impossible, days were dull and, one imagines, when thankfulness, God and living all seemed unconvincing. “What do you do when you feel like you’re going to die because you can’t write anything?” she recalled asking former tourmate Thom Yorke in an interview with Pitchfork’s Laura Snapes. His advice was, roughly, to do other things. So she did, and eventually songs made their way out of the struggle —  or, more precisely, the struggle made their way into them. Everything on The Haunted Man is either about being alive, struggling to get there or pleading with someone else to try: the fallen starlet of “Laura,” the ghost in the past on the title track, the unnamed people running and crying on the entire back half. Listening to the album at times feels like being pulled out of a whirlpool, then watching it swirl so nicely behind you.

(This is where it probably should be noted that there are naked people on the album cover. Nothing more on that needs to be noted.)

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