SEXWITCH isn’t your average cover album, nor your average cover band. With Natasha Khan—a.k.a. Bat For Lashes—at the helm, joined by producer Dan Carey and psych rock band Toy, you’d almost expect something dreamy and electronic with some psych twists to it. Instead, SEXWITCH takes psych and folk songs from Iran, Morocco, Thailand and the U.S. and puts their own translations and performance into them, with some stellar results. While it’s an interesting concept, this is far from the only thing that makes SEXWITCH such a noteworthy occurrence.
The truly shocking part of the album was the energy and life these droning, explosive songs bring out of Khan. While album opener Ha Howa Ha Howa starts simply enough, by the end Khan is screaming herself hoarse, wailing over the tribal folk beat in a way that we’ve never really experienced. Helelyos is lighter on the screaming, but vibrates with a dark, sexual energy that is equally shocking and infectious; a different but exciting kind of primal energy.
As the album gets to Kassidat El Hakka, her new-found attitude reaches its peak: Her raw, shouting vocals cover a majority song, but closes on an extreme note, with Khan’s almost crazed laughter leading into a primal scream, partway between bloodcurdling and ecstatic, adding a new layer to the psych track, and making her calmer chanting—When I die / I’ll go back to where I was—that much more unsettling.
The crazed energy and sheer power between these tracks does have an effect on the album’s low-key moments, though: Lam Plearn Kiew Bao, while good in its own right, falls behind after all of these high-energy trips, relying on minimal instrumentation and Khan’s elongated vocals rather than vibrant arrangements and primal energy. War in Peace, the only song to originate from an English-speaking country on the album, feels out of place compared to the exotic psych rock the album showcases, making up for it with Khan’s impressive vocals but ending the album on a conflicting note.
Aside from the conflicts in tone, SEXWITCH is a truly impressive feat. Toy offer some amazing performances across the album, and Khan’s vocals are positively otherworldly. It’s a dark turn one wouldn’t have expected her to take, but one that’s made her all the more intriguing as an artist. The primal energy in Kassidat El Hakka and Helelyos is utterly infectious, and the whole package feels unique and refreshing in the context of the modern music world. With only six tracks to its name, the two weaker songs show their flaws far too clearly to call it perfect. As an experiment and an experience, however, SEXWITCH is a complete success.