Bat For Lashes’ (aka Natasha Khan) latest offering is centred around tragedy, a concept album that follows a woman whose fiancé dies in a car crash on the way to their wedding. Then throughout the album Khan takes us on the woman’s journey, exploring the emotional terrain of the tragedy’s aftermath. The narrative is aptly titled ‘The Bride’. It’s a hard-hitting experience, with the music reflecting its morose nature. It’s a slow album, bordering the musical equivalent of lethargy; its atmosphere is a consuming force. The sheer emotional weight is both good and bad, ‘The Bride’ is immersive and bold, yet it lacks variety in tempo or emotional release. Once the first track begins, Khan sinks her teeth into you, and like a widow’s bite, it can be fatal. ‘The Bride’ requires a particular frame of mind or patience to really enjoy what it has to offer otherwise it’ll appear as a monotonous, melodramatic musical.
After the album’s introduction, the dark and dreamy journey begins with ‘Joe’s Dream’, a haunting rendition of sorrow and loss. As the intricate instrumentation of drums and guitar come together in a gentle, soft manner, Khan’s beautiful vocal melodies combine, floating effortlessly; creating a truly powerful experience. The instrumental itself is minimalistic and is all the more affective for it. The sparsity allows the vocals to breathe, echoing through the whirlpool of sound. ‘Joe’s Dream’ acts as a blueprint for the rest of the album. If you only listened to this track it’d give you a good understanding of what ‘The Bride’ is: a surreal, sad musical endeavour. Khan doesn’t allow room to breathe, as ‘In God’s House’ follows. Again, the vocals are the definition of aural beauty, they’re smooth and expressive, conveying the bride’s state of mind perfectly. The way her voice builds as she holds her notes with such finesse is remarkable. Instrumentally it’s an electronic driven track. The synths buzz and twinkle, gradually swirling beneath the vocals, creating a sense of urgency and tension. The drums come in during the chorus, adding the finishing touch to its otherworldliness.
The masterclass continues with both ‘Honeymooning Alone’ and ‘Sunday Love’. The former features Stoner Rock influenced guitars, with a splash of something from a Old Western soundtrack. The guitar work is bolstered by a simple, rhythmic pattern from the drums, and even though it’s rather barren in terms of complexity, it works. Everything comes together, continuing the soul-stirring journey that the listener has embarked on. ‘Sunday Love’ is the opposite of ‘Honeymooning Alone’, it’s quicker and its tempo is the fastest on the entire album. It’s a dazzling affair, all the sounds merge pushing the song forward. Whether it’s the beeps of synthesisers, gentle strumming of guitar strings or FX effects, they’re all as impactful together as they are alone. It never once seems like a wall of noise, there’s space for every ingredient. Moreover, ‘Sunday Love’ features the best chorus on the album too, it’s nothing short of spectacular. As the song ends it marks the beginning of ‘The Bride’s’ slippery slope, as the album reaches ‘Widow’s Peak’, it begins to lose steam.
After that, the album descends into a virulent pit. Khan chooses to continue with the wave of melancholia, and the listening experience becomes oppressive rather than enjoyable. It’s a risky choice, and it doesn’t quite pay off. It would of been far better if she followed the pattern of ‘The Bride’s’ first half. As the album progresses, it gets to a point where there’s too much emotion and the looming atmospheric weight grows tiresome. There’s never a moment of brevity to release any of the tension or depression. It ends up being a never-ending, pulsing void birthed by the desire to tell a story, seeming like Bat For Lashes ended up lost in staying faithful to the narrative rather than delivering a well-rounded, accessible package. Overall, it’s a strong effort which loses momentum, although the commitment to tell a story is admirable. Despite this, the bludgeoning of human tragedy proves far too much to sustain an enjoyable, succinct adventure. ‘The Bride’ is relentless, heart-wrenching, slow-burning affair that isn’t for the faint hearted.
Bat For Lashes’ ‘The Bride’ is out now on Parlophone.
This Bat For Lashes article was written by Jake Gould, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Zoe Anderson. Photo credit Francesca Allen.