Bat for Lashes (Natasha Khan) has never been one to shy away from ambition. Her early works were couched in her vivid imagination, exploring things like “modern-day fables exploring dualities” and “metaphysical ideas concerning the connections between all existence”. Her first album, Fur and Gold, wasn’t as outlandish or conceptual as what would come later, but it was still built around a brooding, gothic, but still danceable aesthetic that was extremely evocative. The Haunted Man, her 2012 album was more grounded and restrained, but it still had songs titled things like Horses of the Sun. Even then, her new album, The Bride, may be her most ambitious, and most audaciously different album yet.
Like her sophomore record Two Suns, The Bride is a concept album. However, instead of that album’s premise about a desert-dweller named Pearl, The Bride is built around a concrete narrative. Inspired by a short film Khan worked on, the story concerns a bride whose fiancé is killed on the way to their wedding, and then drives off in their honeymoon car for an road trip of existentialism and sadness, before once again finding hope. It’s an emotionally complex tale, and Khan fully commits to realising it through The Bride, telling the story chronologically, and immersing herself deep in her character’s perspective.
Given the filmic source material for the album, Khan has fittingly shifted her sonic palette to compliment its cinematic scope. Instead of the lush dance-pop of Two Suns, or the skeletal grooves of The Haunted Man, Khan creates a soundscape of emotive strings, moody bluegrass guitars, and slow, sombre beats. It sometimes feels like a pastiche of a gothic deep-south, or music fit for swampy backwoods. Combined with the equally garish and vintage artwork released with the album, The Bride is like a soundtrack to something akin to Twin Peaks, all Lynchian brooding and kitsch aesthetics.
Pre-release single In God’s House is one of the most uncharacteristically propulsive tracks on the album. It concerns the bride fretting about her fiancé’s whereabouts at her wedding ceremony (having already been enveloped in pre-marital euphoria on I Do and Joe’s Dream), before coming to the crushing realisation that they’re never going to arrive. Over throbbing synth bass and nervous drums, tension and anxiety envelop Khan’s lyrics: “dewy eyes and lashes long for my love / but I’m feeling something’s wrong”.
As the album progresses, the bride wallows in her grief, and ponders her place in the world. On Sunday Love she sings “I see her in every place I go”. Close Encounters compares her dreams of her lover returning to being abducted by aliens, such is their implausibility. It’s a striking metaphor, and lyrics like “some say my lover is a pale green light” fit perfectly with the gaudy style of the record. If I Knew is the closest Khan comes to replicating her best previous song (Laura), but it’s more complicated than that song could ever hope to be, and is about embracing grief as part of who you are: “it was a mountain I had to claim as mine”.
The Bride is the most ambitious work from Bat for Lashes yet. It melds the naked emotion of The Haunted Man with the audaciousness of Two Suns and Fur and Gold, all whilst pushing into new, cinematic territory. Even at its slowest, and most sombre moments, The Bride never gets dull, and Khan consistently resists taking the simplest option, opting to dive into emotional complexity instead. The Bride is Khan’s best album yet.