The attic of Natasha Khan’s imagination is filled with the spectres of countless unsettled women. These characters have populated (and given their names to) Khan’s songs since she made her debut as Bat For Lashes—chameleonlike “Sarah,” gossipy “Prescilla,” and Karen, who “needs something better than running away,” haunt 2006’s Fur and Gold, while Pearl, a destructive femme fatale, wreaks havoc throughout 2009’s Two Suns.
Khan has always delighted in toying with feminine archetypes, but on The Haunted Man, she addresses a pair of captivating muses. The crystalline “Marilyn” is less about the real-life Norma Jean than the elusive essence of old-fashioned celebrity she represents. And “Laura,” the album’s debut single and emotional centerpiece, is Khan’s most vulnerable ballad to date, an earnest and understated wash of cello, piano, and brass that buoys a hymn for a girl who’s “more than a superstar.”
Those two moments of startling directness are surrounded by a collection of songs couched in evocative language that can feel as though it’s been drawn from Grimm fairytales. In place of the lush, dystopian-synth backdrops that dominated Two Suns is a focus on openness, texture, and percussion that combines the jittery prettiness of TV on the Radio (whose Dave Sitek is on hand for several tracks) with the ominous rumbles of late-period Portishead and the gothic cascades of Kate Bush.
But despite the precisely placed flourishes, Khan remains the focus of every song. Even when her voice is echoing in its upper register, she exudes the gravity and groundedness that evade so many of the hapless characters she writes about.
Playlist picks “Laura,” “The Haunted Man,” “Horses of the Sun”