Release Date: Apr 7, 2009
Record label: Astralwerks
Genre(s): Indie, Rock
Review Summary: Right now, Two Suns just may be one of the defining musical moments of 2009.It’d be easy to be a tad bit skeptical about Natasha Khan’s sophomore release Two Suns. It’s an album that is, according to the press release, and I quote: about “the philosophy of the self and duality, examining the need for both chaos and balance, for both love and pain, in addition to touching on metaphysical ideas concerning the connection between all existence”. Right, Okay.
Natasha Khan likes pretty things: fur, gold, melody, the moon, feathers, things that sparkle, chords that resolve. Since she began recording and performing as Bat For Lashes a few years back, the Brighton native has loosely assembled those things around her person like so many thrift store trinkets. Were it not for "What's a Girl to Do?", the lone song from her otherwise-too-precious 2006 debut to suggest that she might have the chilly songwriting charisma to match her outward appearance, it could have been easy to write Khan off as nothing more than an over-reaching asthete.
Natasha Khan is a woman of many guises. Already operating under the pseudonym Bat for Lashes, Khan has adopted an alter ego named Pearl for her sophomore effort, Two Suns. Described as “a destructive, self-absorbed, blonde, femme fatale … who acts as a direct foil to Khan’s more mystical, desert-born spiritual self,” Khan accesses Pearl as a means of exploring the duality of such celestial heavyweights as planets and the sun, not to mention the duality of self and relationships.
Khan’s sophomore album demands continued attention Yeasayer, Bat For Lashes’ sophomore effort lands with simple poise. While Two Suns largely discards Fur and Goldsensibility here—“Daniel” sounds like a breathier take on Stevie Nicks’ most elegant compositions, and “Pearls Dream” brings a Kate Bush drama to the dancefloor. An easy (if slightly front-loaded) listen that Khan performs effortlessly.
While a rightfully feted debut, Bat For Lashes’ Fur And Gold album of 2006 seemed to overachieve too quickly for its intimate design to be properly processed. A Mercury nomination and a couple of BRIT nods look good on the CV, but to pin such accolades upon the sleeve of Natasha Khan is to weigh down the singer with expectations beyond her control for the anticipated successor. Khan’s songwriting is not the kind that broad audiences can take immediately to – in this respect it’s fortunate that Klaxons pipped her to the Mercury post in 2007, or else the splendour of Fur And Gold would certainly have been irrevocably blighted by over-playing and cooption by all manner of inappropriate mediums.
"It's the Coronation Street of music," Little Boots said recently. "Who wants to sing about making a cup of tea?" 2009's hotly tipped female was talking about 2007's hotly-tipped female - Kate Nash. With contemporaries Jack Peñate, Lily Allen and Jamie T, Nash championed a sort of vérité songwriting popularised by the Streets. She sung about mouthwash, Pritt Stick and watching CSI.
Lest anyone think her previous tales of wizards and enchanted headdresses insufficiently outré, Natasha Khan returns with a song cycle about love and the duality of self, featuring a platinum-blonde alter ego called Pearl and lyrics like, "Where's my bear to lick me clean?" Such conceptual overload could go either way, but Two Suns is fantastic as well as fantastical. Whereas her debut relied on charisma and imagination to paper over the songwriting cracks, this is agleam with striking melodies, augmented by diverse guests (gospel singers on Peace of Mind, Scott Walker on The Big Sleep, Brooklyn band Yeasayer here and there) and lovingly handled by producer David Kosten. One thinks of Stevie Nicks's moondance sensuality (the luscious single Daniel sounds like an eldritch Fleetwood Mac) and, inevitably, Kate Bush and Björk.
Natasha Khan's debut album as Bat for Lashes, Fur and Gold, was so vivid and fully realized that it was a tough act to follow: she found ways to make her wildest flights of fancy into music with the immediacy of pop and the intimacy of a singer/songwriter's confessions. It takes a lot of ambition to pull off that kind of alchemy, and that ambition defines Two Suns. Khan's sounds and visions are even more widescreen here, full of pristine electronics and heady concepts, and Scott Walker, the undisputed king of high-concept music, duets with her on the ultra-theatrical finale "The Big Sleep.
Identity crises are not uncommon in the music world. David Bowie may be the first icon who made musical alter egos cool. Along the way, there have been questionable repackagings (anyone remember Garth Brooks as Chris Gaines?) and even questionable mental states; Jane Siberry recently ditched her belongings, renamed herself Issa and rarely plays any Siberry songs.
England’s Bat For Lashes, a.k.a.. Natasha Khan, follows up her Mercury Prize nominated 2007 debut Fur and Gold with Two Suns, another unique and compelling album of mystical indie-rock with shimmering vocals, proving she not only has a voice to be reckoned with, but is a voice to be reckoned with. It is her magnificent voice that jumps out from the speakers and immediately demands attention.
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