Bat for Lashes: 2012 Album of the Year
"The Haunted Man" softly defies my expectations.
I can't stop listening to Bat for Lashes' latest album, The Haunted Man. In a year that brought with it some disappointing albums from artists I really like – Bloc Party, Passion Pit, Deftones, Regina Spektor, Muse – this collection of songs has been the most uplifting and unexpected gift I've unwrapped.
Listen to the first minute of the first song, "Lilies." If at that point you're not all in, this probably isn't your thing. If, on the other hand, you feel a bit of a chill skate across your skin when that first beat drops in – the gentle thump over which Natasha Khan's satiny voice undulates – you'll most likely enjoy the next 50 minutes as well.
Khan's voice is the gem at the center of each song. It climbs to the upper registers like echoes in a church finding their way to the clock tower. But the instrumentation (also credited largely to Khan, who plays everything from the harp and the celeste to horn synths and glass percussion) is brilliant as well, in part because of how sparse and restrained it can be. Pink Floyd used to make a conscious effort to let songs "breathe," such as on songs like "Us and Them," and that seems to be exactly the kind of approach at work here. The vocals are given plenty of space – the church left airy and open.
This album is not going to make you dance. In fact, there are moments where the emotion feels borderline somber. But those moments serve only to make the sun-filled choruses soar a little higher. The song "Horses of the Sun," for example, has three distinct parts (i.e. verse, pre-chorus, chorus), and by the end of the second part, you may feel like the energy's been sucked out of the room. But then the next part kicks in and Khan has us "busting out of the heavens" in stride with backlit galloping horses.
So that's my pick for album of the year. And if this kind of female singer-songwriter stuff appeals to you, you might also check out Beth Orton's latest, Sugaring Season, which easily trumps her last two albums.
As a sidebar, concert of the year, from my purely subjective perspective, goes to Bon Iver. I saw a lot of fantastic shows this year – Animal Collective, Yeasayer, Gotye, The Shins, Radiohead (I'd pick Radiohead, except they're so good it feels like cheating) – but at none was I more dumbstruck than watching Bon Iver from the balcony of Radio City Music Hall. Playing with that many people – somewhere around 10 if I remember right, including two drummers and a horn section – is not an easy feat, and yet those pieces rose and fell together like a single surge of the sea. I dare say I nearly wept.