On Lillies, the opening track of Bat for Lashes third full length, Natasha Khan sings of prayer, hauntings, and longing, and reaches for the natural world as an expansive, mysterious conduit for emotion. The rest of this accomplished, billowing album follows suit. The Haunted Man is a record of strange journeys stalked by shadows and spirits, Khan calling on an esoteric mix of electronic and organic instruments to narrate her tales of dark, elemental forces.
Lillies is followed by the repressed guitar tones All Your Gold, a lament for a relationship stifled by the ghost of lovers past. Gold is built from a spasmodic funk as awkward as the relationship it details, before bursting into unexpected 4/4 club thuds on the chorus. It’s pop music reconfigured, avant garde without losing sight of the power of a hook.
Next up are the spy noir plucks and chimes of Horses of the Sun, Khan intoning in the driest of timbres
‘All the gardens bloomed a flower for each day I was away// Now I’m saved’
However, she’s never so crass as to reveal exactly what it is her character was saved from. Instead the unknown is left to lurk round the edges of the album, a sinister, half seen, constantly felt presence. This creeping unease is countered by the other constant- musically The Haunted Man is never far from a lush passage. Whilst individual tracks feature everything from tick tocking lo-res drum machines to beautiful tinkling grand piano, Khan is only ever moments away from a swelling string section, or a wash of melodic synth, lending the album salvation in the form of a thick, dream like quality; however dark it gets, we always feel like we can awake.
Inevitably, the usual Bat For Lashes influences are tangible throughout the record- where Kate Bush burst clouds, Khan sings of deep seas- during Rest Your Head she may well be giving the comparison a sly nod when she sings ‘you’ve been running up hills.’ Meanwhile the epic Winter Fields has Khan hiccupping her vocal from little girl whisper to declamatory chanteuse in a manner that’s pure Bjork. Still, she has enough off her own off kilter personality to own her material, and after the relative disappointment of sophomore album Two Suns, The Haunted Man is a return to form; strange, pagan and mysterious, it unfolds like the most delicate of puzzle boxes, beautiful and sinister by turns.