When it came time to write her second album, Natasha Khan — the starry-eyed, cosmic-voiced 29-year-old singer/songwriter better known as
"I love all my kind of unusual and avant-garde music, but at the same time I love pop music, and I love groundbreaking and unusual pop music especially. And I think we're kind of lacking in that a bit," she sighed. "So, on this new album, I wanted to focus on writing pop songs, because I was trying to get back to that kind of place, to the amazing pop songs I used to hear on the radio as a child."
It may sound a bit, well, grandiose, but for Khan, anything's possible. After all, her debut album, 2006's Fur and Gold, ushered her from unknown musician/schoolteacher to international hipster icon, earning critical praise, a Mercury Music Prize nomination and an opening slot on Radiohead's summer tour. So, for album number, two — the excellent, ethereal Two Suns (which hit stores Tuesday) — she decided to aim high, and unapologetically so.
"I hate the second-album syndrome. Everyone talks about it, but like, you know if the record company takes you off tour straight into the studio, then a lot of the time there's a lack of soul or a lack of 3-D life experience and I was really conscious that I didn't want that to happen. And luckily, I was having a lot of intense life experiences, so I felt like I had been documenting them and I had something I want to say," Khan told MTV News. "But for a little while, I was touring and I was like, 'Oh my God, is this really boring?' I didn't know what to say and lyrically I was struggling ... The first record, for me, was quite rich because I was just living my life and observing things and I had time to reflect and develop the work, and if you don't do that, you're kind of cheating yourself a little bit."
Recorded in disparate locales like Brooklyn, New York; Big Sur, California; and Brighton, England, Two Suns is an album of dualities: big soundscapes and microscopic tinkerings, lyrics that delve into the personal and the planetary, sung and played by two distinct characters — the raven-haired, introverted Khan and a blonde-haired vixen named Pearl. It's the musical equivalent of Multiple Personality Disorder, born out of the manic time Khan spent touring in support of Fur.
"When I wrote that record, I was a nursery-school teacher living with my boyfriend by the sea, just being really chill. And it became continuous, relentless touring," she explained. "When I finished touring, I was just trying to live a normal life. I was so preoccupied with, like, the fact that my life had become so bizarre. Like, 'What? Who am I?' And so I tried to make sense of that here."
And though it may sound rather deep, remember: Khan is making pop music here, which means that she was trying very hard to make an artful, experiential album ... that you can dance to.
"The first single is a song called 'Daniel,' and it's, like, the most frightening song on the record for me, because it's the most straightforward, naive and purposely simple song I've ever done. It's about teenage escapism and love and how simple things can be when you're a teenager in love, or how intense and beautiful it can be," Khan smiled. "I love songs like [Pat Benatar's] 'Love Is a Battlefield,' like when you sing them, you want to be leaning out the window of a car with the stars shining. And I felt like I wanted to encapsulate that feeling of abandon and love and sadness and melancholy, all at the same time."