Under enigmatic pseudonym Bat for Lashes, British songstress Natasha Khan has drawn what seems like an endless line of flattering comparisons: When not being likened to Kate Bush, Björk, Annie Lennox, Enya, or some other ethereal diva, she has been cast as a feminized equivalent of Thom Yorke, considered his equal in wounded narratives and imaginative music. But rather than be buried under such weighty parallels, Khan has continued to sculpt her much-complimented craft, with breathy sophomore album Two Suns building on the sensual, cavernous sound she first offered on 2006’s Fur and Gold. For Khan, the ultimate goal is to fashion a formidable musical identity that disinvites further comparisons, and on that measure the album succeeds wildly. Dark, but never needlessly so, Two Suns offers a rich, distinct world of subterranean lullabies, spacey timbres, and ghostly beauty.
Khan’s self-discovery is aided immensely by the opening drama of lead single “Daniel,” a softened piece of electroclash pop that’s immediately more accessible than any of her debut’s amorphous offerings. Listening to the song’s directed march, it’s apparent that Khan has cast off her more indolent, airy traits in favor of structure and urgency. It’s a wise decision, but not an entirely rigid one; Khan is still a hopeless romantic predisposed to descriptive narratives. With piano as workhorse, she infuses songs with an operatic chic enhanced by her own melodramatic flutter. The result is a theatrical, shoegaze quality that likens Two Suns to M83’s recent Saturdays=Youth, albeit without the copious John Hughes references.
Unlike M83’s work, though, Two Suns remains warm and beguiling, awash in a sumptuous, atmospheric saturation that serves as the soundtrack to Khan’s torrid lyrics of fantasy and chivalry. The album regularly opts for a broken, degraded sound drenched in reverb, eschewing intimacy for spectral grace. “Moon and Moon” is the finest example of that delicate touch: a web of disparate drum clicks and angelic choruses, the song is held together by the barest of melodies. Its sustained glory is surpassed only by “Pearl’s Dream,” a writhing mass punctuated by the crunch of new wave percussion. “Good Love” is built from a similar ambience, but prefers a minimalist collection of handclaps, organ, and thundering drums to more complicated accompaniments.
Though the soaked acoustics are pleasant enough, Bat for Lashes’s true message seems more ably expressed by “Glass.” Steamy and mystical, the song is to Two Suns what “The Wizard” was to Fur and Gold, a defining piece that builds and crashes in marvelous tides. As “Glass” escalates and ricochets, listeners will realize that no matter the melancholy antics and nightmarish landscapes, Khan is carrying a hopeful torch throughout. Thus, Two Suns is a shared journey for artist and audience, where both tread through the darkness and into a musical promised land. For Khan or any comparable artist, there can be no greater accomplishment.