Natasha Khan or as she is better know Bat For Lashes is releasing her fourth album, The Bride on July 1st. This ambitious concept album follows the critically touted 2012’s The Haunted Man. There has been a lengthy gap between Bat For Lashes releases, but Khan has been far from idle.
She has been busy with various projects including being a contributing vocalist for the Sexwitch project with the rock band Toy and producer Dan Carey. “The Bride” is a self contained deep delving excursion into a single motif, the results of a wedding that does not occur due to a tragedy. The CD and vinyl releases feature a booklet and prints which Khan and photographer Neil Frug created over the course of a year that flesh out the album’s narrative.
The Bride took two years for Khan to write and six weeks to record. It was produced by Khan along with Dan Carey, Simone Felice, Head and Ben Christophers. The songs were fleshed out utilizing Natasha’s multi instrumentalist skills, along with one time Jeff Buckley drummer Matt Johnson and Lou Rogai of folk duo Lewis and Clark contributions.
“The Bride” follows the story of a woman whose fiancé is killed in a car crash on the way to the wedding and the aftereffects of that tragedy. It is at times a classic road trip through a wounded heart. Khan describes her intent as such, “It is about how many times you want to repeat the same pattern of thinking until you transmute that fairytale beginning and get to the place of truth and reality.” Along the way Khan channels her influences; Siouxie Sioux, Bjork, P.J. Harvey and especially Kate Bush. In regards to the later influence many of Kate Bush’s fans will see familiar parallels between Khan’s motifs and approach and Kate’s symbolic manifestations on “Hounds of Love”. Both recordings looked to examine the mystical and otherworldly with an odyssey of sorts. Kate Bush’s odyssey is the survival of a physical shipwreck and Natasha Khan’s a painful journey through tragedy seeking true reality.
I would be remiss if I did not forewarn listeners that you are required to buy into the premise of the album. It is a dramatic examination of loss, tragedy and the death of certainty and fairy tales. If you are not up for the dramatic immersion into those topics this album might not be for you. There are no epic pop hits or easily carved out singles. “The Bride” needs to be listened to in it’s entirety for the full impact of the recording to be absorbed.
“The Bride” begins with aptly titled I Do which is simply Khan’s vocals and an autoharp. It is best described as a daydream as the main character prepares for her wedding day. Unrealistic romantic expectations are express, “Tomorrow the sorrow will drop away like dew”, with the premise of “happily ever after” being proffered and naively believed. The song sets up the protagonist for the lurking emotionally catastrophic thunderclap. Joe’s Dream begins the slide into the tragedy that is pending. The song begins with a thunderstorm and the beating in time of windshield wipers. The bride is caught in a web of joy as doom surrounds. Her groom shares a premonition of death he has dreamed; but both willfully disregard or ignore the warning with each questioning”What does it mean the bad things that I’ve seen?” The track utilizes a dramatic Enya like atmospheric to convey the dark foreboding aura of the narrative. In God’s House begins with sirens and an unsettling feeling that a tragedy has taken place. The bride waits for her groom in the church ready to embrace her promised “happily ever after” when the worst thing imaginable occurs. She is told of her groom’s deadly accident on his way to the church.
The song is loaded with shock and disbelief as Khan’s soaring vocal escorts her character into a very personal hell. Honeymoon Alone begins with the sound of a car crashing. A sense of cruel reality pervades the track with punchy bass/guitar and trip hop drum. The bride decides in her shock to go on their planned honeymoon alone, completed gob smacked she sings “I will always be the girl who was denied.” She commences on an irrational search for the groom. There is also the slow realization that she is powerless against her fate. Khan’s gorgeous voice conveys all the sorrow of the tragedy as the bride embarks on a honeymoon that can never bring closure.
The numbness of feeling continues with Sunday Love. This glichy tech number shows the sorrow ridden subject seeking to return to the person she was before the accident. In denial she trying to rationalize herself before and after the tragedy, attempting to deal with what was and what could have been that hindsight creates. My favorite track is Never Forgive the Angels. Here the bride expresses her anger at what has occurred. The track is dreamlike and gauzy but portrays her as haunted by the dreams of her groom. The ever repeating nagging question of why me? dwells obsessively throughout the track. The soaring vocals present an individual who gets a sliver of satisfaction from cursing the angels who have dealt her such an awful fate. The track is grounded by an insistent tribal droning beat providing a feeling of other-worldliness. Close Encounters captures the regret and yearning the bride has to join her groom in the afterlife. It is a gorgeous lyrical poem where the bride attempts to transcend the mortal world to join her lost love. It harkens to Edgar Allan Poe’s Annabel Lee and Greek myths of the afterlife, best personified by Orpheus and Eurydice. The depth of the pain the bride goes through is skillfully conveyed by Khan on this selection.
Widows Peak is a spoken word piece that is best described as a mystical nightmare. It is here that the album truly harkens to Kate Bush’s “Hounds of Love” second side, with “Widow’s Peak” mirroring Bush’s “Wake the Witch”. “Widows Peak” contains the drama and symbols of mankind’s archetypes and weaves them into a spine tingling creation. Additionally expressed is the protagonist’s underlying desire to die, “take a walk man of God, I just want to die.” The selection is breathtaking and the climax of the album. There are no half measures here, you will either love the song or loathe it, but it is a thought provoking creation.
Lands’ End operates as a summary of the story thus far; it is illuminated with gorgeous strings and guitar. The odyssey here switches from an examination of sorrow to a journey seeking self discovery. If I Knew is an evocative self affirming piano ballad. The healing of the spirit is represented in this track. The bride comes to terms with and appreciates the growth that could only come through her loss. She no longer wants to turn back or change anything. “Baby if I knew what I know now I would not turn back.” This theme continues with I Will Live Again which shows the bride has not come out of the woods completely but is on the road to recovery. She is working through the pain to realize there is hope for another love and joy in life. There is also the realization that she will never completely heal or forget and will always walk with an emotional limp that will be less noticeable and debilitation as time goes on.
The shimmering beauty of this song is like the dawning of a new day. In Your Bed also shows the turning point has arrived, with the Bride becoming sick of the sorrow and the mundane world as she lolls in the bed they once shared. This song is the most detached from the established narrative and feels a bit forced into the song cycle. It is still an affecting song. Clouds sends the album to its conclusion. It is ethereal, mesmerizing and melodramatic. It is the final goodbye to the bride’s lost love, who will be yearned for and never forgotten until they are finally united in the afterlife. The song is a real showcase for the beauty of Khan’s voice, and a fitting end to the release.
Natasha Khan deserves a great deal of praise for creating such an ambitious project. The hardest part is handling the pathos and sorrow appropriately without the venture becoming maudlin. For the most part Khan does a very good job of moving through the grief cycle evocatively and delicately. Her voice is ever engaging even if you don’t buy into the narrative. There is another way to look at the album. It could also be said that Khan is conducting an examination of marriage and its presentation throughout the ages as a “happily ever after” destination. She suggests that marriage is not a panacea or final destination but the beginning of a very challenging journey. Khan has said on the subject of marriage she has reached a place in her life where everyone around her seems to be getting married, and she is trying to parse out where her true desires on the subject lay.
Even if you have a down on weddings and marriage, the album can be seen on a wider stage. In broader strokes it is as an album that is dealing with the unimaginable. The release examines how to survive the tragedies of life. No matter what the final verdict from the critics The Bride is filled with beautiful craftsmanship displaying Khan’s impeccable skills. She aptly sets the mood for the message of each song. “The Bride” is certainly not an album loaded with pop hits, but it is ambitious and engaging and an emotion wringing odyssey that is something to experience.