Issue #10: Two Suns by Bat For Lashes
April 4, 2016
Released On April 3, 2009
Released By Parlophone Records & The Echo Label
Natasha Khan, aka Bat For Lashes (aka Sexwitch). I first discovered her in 2012 when she released her third studio album, The Haunted Man. When that record came out, I fell head over heels and quickly devoured all I could. As all of her albums (debut Fur And Gold, follow-up and present subject Two Suns, and hat trick The Haunted Man) have earned critical acclaim in pretty much equal measure, I highly recommend every one — there’s a clear and compelling trajectory in terms of artistic growth. In the end, though, I chose Two Suns because it’s the one closest to my heart. It’s the one I adore the most, and the one I actually listen to the least often in a perverse attempt to hold on to the magic it contains.
When it comes to Bat For Lashes, her philosophy could be summed up as “more is more” and subtlety is not a word in her musical vocabulary. She makes capital-A Art Pop (Lady Gaga, eat your heart out), and a lot of times her lyrics can walk the line between sublime and absurd. Some might find her style over the top, but she sells it all with a sincerity and razor-sharp musical ability that draws you in to her world. And with Two Suns, a concept album that maps both an internal struggle and a doomed relationship over the course of eleven songs, it’s a world you can lose yourself in. I won’t try to summarize the story here — I’d rather point you to the press release and a couple of interviews that can really round out one’s understanding of the connections weaving the songs, themes, and details together better than I ever could (seriously, read at least the press release!). And although the heart of the album lies in this concept she’s created, the songs themselves stand on their own as gorgeous pieces of music.
Opener “Glass” is a dramatic introduction, beginning with an ominous a capella melody over distant city noises before ascending and accelerating on rolling drums and Khan’s soaring vocals. It’s lyrical and musical verticality is spectacular. “Daniel” is one of the best pop songs of the last ten years, its tale of star-crossed lovers over brooding synths and strings conjuring a dark dream that’s catchy as hell. “Two Planets” is a driving pop experiment lacking any sort of standard structure, yet the melodies, drums, and shimmering synths are exciting and hypnotic. “The Big Sleep” closes the album with haunting piano and an assist from avant-garde legend Scott Walker, ending with what I can only describe as an electronic heartbeat abruptly cutting off. The crown jewel, though, is “Siren Song,” the track that sits dead center in the album (!!!). It’s lyrics outlining Khan/Pearl’s attempts to love a partner, yet believing deep down that she is incapable, are heartwrenching, and the contrast between the desperate devotion of the verses and the grand crescendo (booming drums, flute, synths, and strings) that leads to the final confession, “‘Cause I’m evil,” is immensely powerful. It’s one of a handful of pieces of art that has ever brought and still does bring me to tears almost every time I hear it.
This is a true album in every sense, rewarding those who take it as a whole. It’s a record that’s full of love, pain, turmoil, hope, adventure, discovery, and life. It beats with a heart full to bursting. Two Suns is a staggering opus that leaves me in wonderment.
P.S. Bat For Lashes is back in full concept mode with her new album The Bride, out July 1st!
David Munro (@david_c_munro)
Idiosyncratic Avant-Garde Wanderer
The artwork for this record is as stunning as the music itself.
In the 2009 book Our Noise, the founders of Merge Records are asked which bands they wished they’d sign, and Laura Ballance replied, “Bat For Lashes.” I thought it was really ballsy of her to say that — even though Two Suns received a great deal of positive critical attention when it was released, it still felt so different from anything else that indie rock was doing at the time. When I went to listen to the record for Off Your Radar, I tried to remember another song I liked besides “Daniel,” and I couldn’t. Every note of the song and the images from the video are completely burned in my mind but nothing else was and I purchased this on CD when it came out. To be honest, “Daniel” is still such a perfect song that Natasha Khan is unlikely to ever reach those heights again, but it’s unfair that I never gave Two Suns more thought beyond the hit. I hate being that person. What about “Sleep Alone” and “Pearl’s Dream,” which are a bit more straightforward and upbeat? Nope, they didn’t ring a bell at all. Songs like “Good Love” (my new favorite) feel so contemporary that I could be listening to something released last month. In fact, listening in 2016 with a completely different perspective on music (as a fan of Weyes Blood and Julia Holter, among others), the album is full of such beauty and artistry that I’m furious I didn’t explore it and its influences enough seven years ago.
Melissa Koch (@bunnycaper)
Mediocre Runner, Aspiring Celebrity DJ
A female vocalist! Now we’re inching back into my comfort zone. Two Suns is my first exposure to Bat For Lashes, and it’s kind of overwhelmingly great. Atmospheric and kinetic, it’s an album that demands to be lived in, an album that’s constantly moving you forward. But what really gets me, what sends goosebumps down my arms, is just how delightfully witch-y the whole thing sounds. Album opener, “Glass” begins with the line “I will rise now / and go about the city” before beginning way to a soft instrumental that evokes the feel of fog, creeping across a graveyard. “Moon And Moon” features a beautifully lilting melody, perfect for swaying back and forth while conjuring a lost love. And the cauldrons and black cats vibe isn’t limited to just the ballads. “Pearl’s Dream” undercuts its very danceable hand claps with an eerie synth line. Meanwhile, “Daniel,” an absolute stunner that features the most soaring hook on the album, cuts itself with a layer of moody vocal reverb. The whole project is dripping with cinematic showmanship, at turns sweeping and intimate, sometimes all in the course of a single track. Take my personal favorite, “Siren Song.” What begins as a beguiling, quiet meditation of a ballad, transforms into a grand, piano driven showstopper, straight from a Florence And The Machine album. It also features the line, “my blonde curls slice through your heart,” which is knocking me out just to type it right now. We’ve covered a lot of great albums so far this year, but as someone with a Buffy The Vampire Slayer tattoo, someone with stacks of witch comic books, someone who watches Kiki’s Delivery Service when he needs a pick me up, Two Suns feels like an album that’s gonna find a permanent home in my collection.
Josh Buck (@altq42)
Devout Pop Music Purist
The last five years has seen a renaissance in great British female singer-songwriters. Adele, Florence Welch, Birdy, Emmy The Great, Laura Marling, I could go on and on. Natasha Khan, known by her stage name Bat For Lashes, stands proudly alongside those. I’ve been a fan of Bat For Lashes since her debut Fur And Gold in 2007. Whilst that album was good, her sophomore effort, Two Suns, tops it in every way. There is a haunting majesty to Khan’s vocals, and whilst her debut at times stumbled, this is a tight, ambitious record that excels from beginning to end. The MVP track is of course “Daniel,” probably her most famous song but with good reason. This is a beautiful song, with its mystical synth sound, and Khan’s fragile vocals channeling her inner Kate Bush to provide a stunning track. It’s a song that can suit many moods, and has long been a staple in my musical playlists for all manner of occasions. Bat For Lashes is a well-known artist, at least here in the UK, but she’s also vastly under-appreciated. Whilst Adele and Florence And The Machine duly get the success they deserve, Natasha Khan continues to stand on the precipice of breaking into the mainstream. Whilst all three of her albums are great, Two Suns stands out as the best. It’s an excellent record that I wholly recommend.
James Peart (@choccyr)
Fascinated Binger Of Musical Zeitgeist
One of the ways I try to inject rationality into the sweaty, want-everything process of record store decision-making is to put albums into situational buckets. When will I actually listen to this? What would this album accompany perfectly? In the case of Two Suns by Bat For Lashes, I have three words for you: fancy international espionage. I may be listening to this in my car while driving to and from Costco or grabbing lunch, but my imagination is miles away, plotting…gathering my various passports…telling my contacts where and when the rendezvous will be… The overall tone of Two Suns — tightly wound, purposeful, grand — certainly has something to do with my mind going in that direction, as does the precision of the percussion on programming-heavy songs like “Glass.” There’s also Natasha Khan’s accent (“No my darling I can’t stand to sleep alone” might be my favorite line of the whole album), which this American subconsciously-then-consciously associated with the serious sophistication of the MI6 network that supports James Bond. Even “Peace Of Mind,” which is an outlier in terms of its construction — more acoustic, less digital — would still sound perfect leading into some high-risk, super-righteous operation, with a heroic figure striding intently toward the mode of transport that’s headed straight into the shit. I may not encounter many occasions to engage in international espionage myself, but it’s good to know that, next time I do, I’ll have just the right album to play while I’m putting on my tux.
Davy Jones (@youhearthat)
Idealistic Seeker Of Neoteric Sounds
Daaaamnnnn Daniel — oh, are we not doing that anymore? Well, this video is cool anyway. Enjoy.
“Scott Walker alert!” My wife likes to announce whenever I put on a song by the famously room-clearing 30 Century Man. It’s not that she doesn’t like him; she just thinks his unique sound calls for some advance warning. I had my own instance of alert when Walker’s distinctive voice popped into my earbuds on the last track of Two Suns by Bat For Lashes. Until that moment I had been admiring the gleaming production and the streams of influence, which include Siouxsie & The Banshees, The Creatures, The Doors, British folk, contemporary art song, et cetera (and I suspect Kate Bush, but I’m not a fan so it’s not something I care to confirm). As you can guess, the sound is striking, with toothy bass, melodic drums, and restrained electronics supporting Natasha Khan’s crystalline soprano. However, I did say “admiring” and not “loving” for a reason, having found Two Suns, for all its accomplishment, rather inert up to that point. Walker doesn’t get out of bed for just anyone, though, so his endorsement invited me to try harder. And the effort has paid off as I have now clicked “Like” on Bat For Lashes. After several listens, I find “Glass, Sleep Alone, Peace Of Mind, Good Love,” and “The Big Sleep” (with Walker) passing through my mind unbidden — always a good sign. So while Natasha Khan & Co. have hardly been off my radar — the hype was pretty huge for her first album — I’m now looking forward to further investigation.
Jeremy Shatan (@anearful)
Prescient & Appreciative Musical Omnivore
I’m listening to Bat For Lashes’ Two Suns at the perfect time of day. It’s dusk, it’s slightly raining, and it’s that perfect calm transition to night as the first track “Glass” wraps its deep, esthetic music around me and I forget everything happening and experience that perfect moment. By the time the record reaches “Daniel” and “Siren Song,” I’m all in and listening to every note with wonder and appreciation. This is the kind of record you can put on while you get a full productive day at work, enjoy a relaxing night drive, or lie in the grass while staring at the sky in perpetual wonder.
Andrew Cothern (@rvaplaylist)
Beloved & Influential Richmond Chronicler
My introduction to Bat For Lashes was through a close friend of mine. Through her posting a video of the song “Daniel,” I was immediately enamored. As the song grew gracefully with a number of electronic nuances, this was a perfect way to understand the spirit of Natasha Khan. Years later, revisiting Two Suns represents a number of different ideas. The first that comes to mind is how it seems ahead of its time. Khan explained that a lot of the inspiration for Two Suns came from exploring as much new music as possible and the subsequent journeys taken through Joshua Tree Desert, Brooklyn, and her homestead of London. Dabbling with spiritual adventures in California and witnessing a new scene emerging on both sides of the Atlantic, it’s no wonder that Khan was able to really take things up a notch on Two Suns. Bat For Lashes had always explored the idea of lucid imagination and how that can affect any person’s psyche. It’s possibly what set Khan apart from other like-minded musicians with the release of her debut Fur And Gold. On Two Suns, while it may be a reaction to the contemporary musical landscape, it never felt like an immediate copy of what was coming out then. It feels like a further bar set by the project for other artists to immediately take notice of. Also, several moments on this record from 2009 wouldn’t feel out of place on any release seen over the seven years since its release. And this doesn’t just fit the bill of female-fronted outfits — there is a pop variety of baroque, dream, synth, and indie that could easily cross pollinate throughout several artists’ work. My personal favorite track might be “Two Planets.” Much like “Daniel,” it never settles into a single mood and it engages the listener immediately. Other tracks like “Pearl’s Dream” and “Sleep Alone” do much of the same and with equally similar success. It was truly a treat to revisit this somewhat overlooked record and recall how much I was drawn to it upon initial listens so many years ago. It’s even more of a delight to see how well it has held up.
Shannon Cleary (@thatssocleary)
Musical Explorer Of All Angles
Natasha Khan splits into two opposing characters while searching for her voice. Pearl, born in the desert, was inspired by her visit to Joshua Tree. Two Suns is like a slightly watered down Tori Amos record, right down to the characters, song structures, and tone of her vocals, or maybe a more accessible My Brightest Diamond (you might know Shara Worden as The Forest Queen on The Hazards Of Love by Decemberists). Story arc aside, “Daniel” is a standout track. After sampling the rest of the Bat For Lashes catalog, Khan seems to make big leaps between each release. Definitely an artist that works very hard at her craft. I’m looking forward to hearing The Bride later this year.
PJ Sykes (@pjsykes)
Gutsy Punk Renaissance Man
Pearl’s inner consciousness throughout the entire record.
My first encounter with Bat For Lashes was the “What’s A Girl To Do” video, a creepy night bike ride with an entourage of BMX-ers in hoodies and animal masks — haunting and Spector-esque pop. This being my limited experience, my ears naturally gravitated to the first two singles, “Daniel” and “Pearl’s Dream.” As the album soaked in, however, I began to really appreciate the spaces Natasha Khan pushes into. It ebbs and flows between the spare and the sonically lush. I get flashes of Tori Amos, Bjork, and Chan Marshall. This seems to follow the duality Khan sets up for the album and I appreciate the details — words and phrases, things in two’s — that recur throughout the piece. It’s full of sonic details that takes repeated listens for them to reveal themselves, like the subtle conversation heard in the background of “Sleep Alone.” “Peace Of Mind” is a bluesy, gospel number that reminds me of the sparest Jason Pierce (Spiritualized) tunes, complete with choir and gives nice contrast to the electro-pop that preceded it. “Travelling Woman” provides a gorgeous culmination, which feels like the most matured track, encapsulating all Khan has learned on this journey. All in all, Two Suns is a beautifully lush album full of emotional tension and introspection — both pop and intimate.
Matt Klimas (@nearcticfauna)
Surveyor Of All Things Fuzz
Natasha Khan, better known by her artistic pseudonym Bat For Lashes, is a musician that I have always been vaguely conscious of without ever really giving much time to what was being produced. Really, there has never been an outstanding track that penetrated my curiosity to actually put one of Khan’s albums on. What strikes me immediately is how assured the album Two Suns sounds for a sophomore effort. There seems to be a very clear idea that Khan wishes to alter perception, pushing the words and music in to fantastical places. Her voice lingers with an echo as each line fades into the next bringing an epic quality to the drums on a track like “Sleep Alone” and more so the piano on “Moon And Moon.” Every track bursts forth with intriguing ideas and it makes for thought-provoking lyrics which is an enjoying concept. As grandiose touches like the gospel choir on “Peace Of Mind” give gravitas rather than pretension, everything used adds to a beautiful pop album and nothing feels out of place because the canvas on which Khan is delivering her music gives scope for achingly wonderful storytelling. This is apparent on my favourite track from the album “Pearl’s Dream” where the lyrics bounce on a more up tempo synthesized sound opening with the mind expanding words “There’s a place I must go / It’s not a place I have seen / But I’ll get there in a new dream” which immediately gives endless boundaries that encapsulate not only that song but the entire album.
Matt Green (@happymad1986)
Fiery Orator Of Nostalgia
Here’s a moment every dude absolutely dreads: you’ve just gotten into the car for a weekend road trip with your girl, and she says “there’s this new group, and you’ve got to hear this album!” In my personal experience, that’s a guaranteed miserable forty-five minutes. However, if you date girls that are the opposite of the girls that I date, then your girlfriends have respectable taste in music, and would introduce you to terrific projects like Bat For Lashes’ album Two Suns. Natasha Kahn’s angelic voice coupled with the album’s airy production makes for a mellow, yet dark experience that tickles the emotions. Quite frankly, this is one of those albums that you can have sex to. Now, I could have sex to a severe weather warning alert, but I’m pretty sure Two Suns would be way more pleasurable for the girl. I digress. Tracks like “Sleep Alone, Daniel,” and “Pearl’s Dream” immediately made me think of 808’s & Heartbreak-era Kanye, aside from the fact that Kanye West can’t sing a lick and Kahn sings wonderfully. The coolest moment for me was on “Moon And Moon” where Kahn’s own background vocals are sampled to accompany the chorus. Through some top-notch engineering techniques, it’s made to sound like a sampled recording. Very cool stuff “Peace Of Mind” brought back vivid memories of the siren scene in O Brother, Where Art Thou (or, “the scene with the wet bitches on the water“, as I scribbled in my notes). And that’s really strange, considering the title of the very next track is “Siren Song.” You know how I know this is a great sex album? The last song is called “The Big Sleep.”
Kellen “J. Clyde” Ford (@jclyde757)
Steadfast Hip-Hop Historian & Creator
Often times, you’ll hear us talk about how we listen to these records, get about half-way through, and it’s just kind of…there. We know it’s great, remarkable, and worth talking about it, but for some reason, it just hasn’t connected with our hearts and souls yet and we’re just drifting through the record. Soon after that feeling of indifference sets in though, something happens with the music. It could be a reference in a song, a particular production technique, or a killer instrumental section — it doesn’t matter what really, but what it does is make us stop and instantly realize the quality of the overall work and this definitely happened for me on Two Suns. It’s weird. I was pretty much already enamored with “Daniel” and “Glass,” but for some reason, I just wasn’t connecting with this collection of songs like I should have been. That is until “Siren Song” came on. Now, this may be a cop-out because I feel like any song that references the treacherous Greek beauties has to be good. This belief mostly stems from my personal obsession with Tim Buckley’s masterpiece “Song To The Siren“, but it’s a belief also backed by other great songs like Pearl Jam’s middle-age epic “Sirens” and Korbe Canida’s beautiful “The Siren And The Sailor.” Simply stated, if an artist references sirens in their songs in any form, I’m going to stop and take notice and I’m so glad Natasha Khan decided to do so here. The song is beautifully sparse at the beginning and just allows the sonic shift on the line “Till the siren come calling, calling” to overwhelm you and allow the next few lines to just completely control your mind. She perfectly utilizes the primal meaning of the sirens to effectively move Pearl’s story forward in way that’s almost stunning. This all opened my ears to the masterful lyrics on display throughout the rest of the record as well as the way she cleverly plays with dynamic shifts even when going overboard with dozens upon dozens of sonic layers. Sometimes with records, you just need a personal Rosetta stone to let you translate the beauty into your own language. When you finally get it, everything clicks and you have an amazing masterpiece waiting to be put on repeat all day long.
Doug Nunnally (@musicdoug)
Garrulous Aural Braggart
Britney by Britney Spears
Chosen By Josh Buck