Oct 12, 2022
By Austin Saalman
After returning from her exhausting Two Suns tour in 2010, English singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Natasha Khan, otherwise known as indie pop favorite Bat For Lashes, experienced a crippling bout of writer’s block, which lead her to contact Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke. During their conversation, she asked Yorke’s advice on the matter, and he recommended that she draw. Khan then enrolled in life-drawing classes and a children’s illustration course, as well as intensive dance lessons. Soon, her confidence had returned, and she commenced writing her third—and perhaps finest—studio album, which would set Bat For Lashes’ standard even higher.
Released in October 2012, The Haunted Man was met with generally positive critical reception and stands as a beguiling celebration of artistic identity and creative expression, Khan having delivered a stunning effort worthy of comparison to her previous output. A vast electro-symphony, The Haunted Man delivers a sound clearer and fuller than those of its predecessors, seeming at once Khan’s most personal and ambitious album. Opening track “Lilies”—the first song written for the album, as well as its finest cut—is inspired by the 1970-released epic romantic drama Ryan’s Daughter and showcases Khan’s powerful vocals, which are equally as haunted as her titular man. Here, Khan cries out for relief from her creative block: “Begged the thunder bolts to strike and mark me as alive.” “Lilies” is by far one of Khan’s most remarkable creative accomplishments, its rich atmosphere abuzz in shades of monochromatic grey as Khan recounts, with striking eloquence, “To the window I ran and saw what he had sent/Children of a private world, to be conceived in milk/A hundred marching to my door, all bringing dreams to drink.”
Subsequently, “All Your Gold” and “Horses of the Sun” appear to predict the more adventurous direction in which indie pop would continue throughout the early-to-mid-2010s, while the nocturnal electropop jubilation of “Oh Yeah” reveals Khan’s boundless capacity for melodic inspiration. Devastatingly glamorous piano ballad “Laura” finds Khan channeling her inner-David Bowie, its operatic 1970s pop flair captivating as its chorus ascends to ethereal heights in Khan’s declaration: “Laura, you’re more than a superstar.” The mercurial beauty of the album’s suite-like title track and “A Wall,” high points for Bat For Lashes, demonstrates Khan’s willingness to defy boundaries, shining especially brightly on the latter. Furthermore, “A Wall”—along with the phenomenal “Marilyn”—reminds the listener of Khan’s extraordinary lyrical prowess, her poetic nature seemingly drawn from the earth itself.
Through its air of supernatural intensity, The Haunted Man reveals itself as a grandly experimental effort by a consistently inventive musician that is both refined and indicative of a fresh creative chapter in a book of plenty. Ultimately a tale of rebirth, the album finds Khan at a turning point in her career, as she covers seemingly boundless artistic ground. While Khan’s 2006-released debut Fur and Gold introduced popular culture to her fascinating brand of pop music mysticism and 2009’s Two Suns furthered said brand, both cementing themselves as instant genre classics, The Haunted Man, in all its determination, remains her boldest statement. Before our very eyes, Khan documented her resurrection until her vision bloomed like “the lilies on the hill,” its fragrant, nightly floral scent seeping through each track. Entering its second decade, The Haunted Man has aged exceptionally well, and fails to sound out of place in the 2020s. Natasha Khan remains among her generation’s most exploratory and challenging artists, and these traits are no better embodied than on The Haunted Man—Bat For Lashes’ creative revival.