Bat for Lashes, “The Bride”

Bat for LashesBat_For_Lashes-2016-The_Bride-2
The Bride
PARLOPHONE/WARNER BROS.
6/10

The mid-2000s were a good time to be stuck in traffic, with The Strokes, Raconteurs, Killers, Death Cab for Cutie, and Gnarls Barkley among many acts sharing the alt-rock airwaves; into that scene descended the fabulous Bat for Lashes. 2016 marks a decade since Natasha Khan bestowed her debut album Fur and Gold upon us. The release was an immediate critical, and eventual commercial, hit in her native England, and it catapulted the quixotic young artist into the spotlight—quite suddenly the words “Mercury Prize” and “Glastonbury Festival” became part of the BFL conversation, and within two years Khan would be opening for Radiohead.

Much like those heady Oxford lads, BFL brought an idiosyncratic, specifically British thoughtfulness to her creations. Considering that her artistic DNA was passed down from the likes of Pink Floyd, Genesis, David Bowie, Kate Bush, and PJ Harvey, it was no surprise that BFL’s sophomore release, Two Suns, was described as a concept album. Wasn’t everything that Khan did conceptual?

Bat for Lashes’ new album The Bride is so heavy on the concept part of the concept album that it almost feels like a novel set to music. Indeed, the album was composed as something of a soundtrack to a short film made by Khan, which screened at Tribeca this past year. For those who didn’t get a chance to see the film, it’s not hard to grasp the concept; the song titles do most of the work for us. We start with “I Do,” a short harp-based song of major key optimism for an upcoming marriage. But by track three, “In God’s House,” we’re at the church and things are starting to go wrong. We learn that the wedding is not to happen and the bride has basically become a widow. By track four, “Honeymooning Alone,” which musically channels David Lynch, all is lost.

The Bride crests with the upbeat “Sunday Love,” which, with its delicate but propulsive techno beat and vocals that show no need for lower—or even middle—registers, is the most “BFL” song on the record, and the high point. For the remaining eight songs we’re engulfed in the bride’s sadness and imbalance. She’s lost in the “the mire, upside down” on “Widow’s Peak,” where the music wails like a ’70s horror film. Eventually, there is hope in “I Will Love Again,” yet the slow, moody march suggests caution. “In Your Bed” is a sweet memory of what once was—the bride coming to terms with her tragedy? It’s a memorable moment in an otherwise tepid second half. Alas, closer “Clouds” drifts along with little direction, and we’re left equally unsatisfied.

Natasha Khan has never been anything but ambitious in her quest for artistic relevance and boundary-pushing songmanship. Two years of work with numerous collaborators in many studios went in to the creation of The Bride and the results are impressive in part, but if this were 2006 we probably wouldn’t be hearing it on the radio.

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