Bat for Lashes – Fur & Gold.
With the exception of Animal Collective and a scant few others, I am not a big fan of the so-called “Naturalismo” movement in American music. I believe I once said that Joanna Newsom, probably the most recognizable name out of the movement, was the most overrated artist ever, and that for all I care she “can eat doodie.” My friend Laura was quick to point out to me that it is in fact I who “should be eating her bowel movements” and that to do so would “be an honor.” Direct quotes there, people.
So, obviously, freak-folk does have some fans on both ends of the musical conversation. Some artists, like The Shivers and Devendra Banhart, embrace the label, while others, like Grizzly Bear, haven’t been so happy with being shoved under the freak-folk umbrella. Similarly, listeners find the genre to be very polarizing – most either love it or hate it, with few moderates.
Journalists, God bless ’em, have created a new, more friendly label for such bands — “New Weird American.” (As opposed to “Old Weird American”?) Though definitely softer than freak-folk, and less baffling than Naturalismo, I still don’t really understand what calling an artist New Weird American is getting at…
Since no one really seems to know for sure what a freak-folk artist sounds like, many are hasty to slap the label on bands just to see if it sticks. Bands like Sunset Rubdown, Iron and Wine, Sufjan Stevens, and the aforementioned Grizzly Bear have all been, in my opinion, misread by those who think that they are freak-folk. However, I am all for Joanna Newsom, Blonde Redhead, Devendra Banhart, and CocoRosie being called such… they are freaky and they play folk music. Seems fitting enough.
What is all this getting at?
Enter Natasha Khan, aka Bat for Lashes. She’s a Pakistan-born, English-raised singer-songwriter whose stellar debut album Fur & Gold finally saw its US release on August 31 after being available overseas since 2006. For almost a year now, since I caught an mp3 of opening track “Horse and I” online, I have been following Bat for Lashes, and I have not been disappointed by this album yet – even though it is probably going to be an easy peg for being freak-folk. Khan’s vocals are definitely the focal point of all the tracks, with the backing instruments being mainly piano, guitar, Theremin, and drum machine.
The best tracks on the album, if I were forced to choose, would probably be “Horse and I,” the absolutely beautiful “Bat’s Mouth,” and “What’s A Girl to Do?” – a song about a breakup that sounds like it was pulled from a 1940’s horror flick, with haunting organ and back up vocals. The music video for this song is also incredible… I’m a sucker for synchronized anything, and synchronized BMX bikers wearing animal masks is just crazy enough to work:
Fans of “You Are Free”-era Cat Power will probably enjoy the somewhat weepy “Sad Eyes,” while fans of Bruce Springsteen honestly will probably not really like her cover of “I’m On Fire.” It’s pretty good nonetheless.
All in all, Bat for Lashes’ new CD will probably please fans of freak-folk (if this album is anything, it is certainly alternative) and might even draw in a few newcomers to the genre. Since it is her debut album, there will inevitably be weak spots, but Fur & Gold is a very solid effort, and has established Natasha Khan as an artist to watch in the future. It isn’t the greatest album of 2007, but it is undoubtedly a great album of 2007.