Bat for Lashes - Two Suns
Klaxons must be feeling the burn. While they seem to be struggling with the pressure of album number two, having already scrapped one recording, their 2007 Mercury co-nominee Bat for Lashes - and quite possibly their closest competition on the night - is riding high after the release of Two Suns, the follow-up to 2006's Fur and Gold. The press attention that was received following the awards by Brightonite Natasha Khan, sole mastermind behind the project, has seen her stock rise to the point that a lot more people are aware of her compared to the twenty people and their dogs who were listening back when she first put on her feather head-dress and rode us to the moon and back. So, has she got enough magic in her to enchant us a second time?
Any fear that Khan may have diluted the mysticism that infused her debut are abated in one fell swoop with opener Glass, which is a grand tale of emerald cities, falling flames and capes made out of rainbows; needless to say, the sonic elements are suitably dramatic, held together by propelling drums and Khan's ethereal vocal. Second track Sleep Alone presents us with a new electronic edge, and it's entirely welcome, twisting the otherwordly melancholy into something propulsive and sexy that suits a song that talks of Khan's 'blue dreams'. That melancholy comes free of any flourishes besides piano, voice and haunting backing vocals on the timeless and heartbreaking Moon and Moon, which may have been around as a B-side since 2007 but is absolutely worthy of a place on the album. After these three tracks comes Daniel, the obvious choice for first single due to sounding like Fleetwood Mac soundtracking a ghoulish Halloween party, and it's at this point that the listener should feel privileged to be listening to Two Suns. My reasoning? All four tracks inhabit their own world, creating stories that are wildly different in tone and yet coherent in quality.
That such a free spirit is quick to embrace eclecticism is not a suprise, and probably explains why Khan felt the need to create an alter-ego to explain the sense of duality and - barely - controlled schizophrenia that informs this set of songs. Following the wonderfully oddball Peace of Mind, a relatively low-key acoustic ditty that decides to go BIG by employing the services of a gay choir, the album's centrepiece Siren Song introduces the second of the album's titular 'suns'; in a beauty of a torch song that really does justice to the Kate Bush claims, the raven-haired talent we know is displaced by Pearl, the wicked twin wandering in from one of those David Lynch films where a cheap blonde wig speaks of so many sinister secrets. She continues her journey in our world (or is that too broad a term for our Tash?) in Pearl's Dream, where Sleep Alone's brooding electro is expanded to even greater effect, culminating in a win of a multi-vocal climax. Past this point, it's hard to tell whether we're listening to Khan or Pearl but it's no matter when we have a song as shimmeringly dreamy as Good Love, where one of our girls - or both? - is searching tirelessly for the mythical 'Good Love Town', their woes allowing for the album's most cinematic moment (it even has one of those purred spoken-word bits used to such great effect on What's a Girl to Do) driven by mournful organ.
After such faultless and shiver-inducing grace notes, Two Planets is a bit of a shock: if Siren Song was Kate Bush, this is pure Björk. It's equally as startling but more confrontational, given mettle by its tribal beats and a vocal performance that is charging for the battleground rather than contemplating lost love. We're back in more familiar territory with Travelling Woman, although the fact that this perfectly conceived piano ballad would not be termed 'familiar' for most other artists is a sign of what we have here. The all-important closer, the unnerving The Big Sleep, reinforces what exactly it is we have here, and that's someone with such star power that Scott Walker's willing to take a supporting role. It's a creepy ending to, no question, one of the albums of the year and one that poses the question of where Khan will go from here. Already residing in this week's Top 5 (!), it's worrying to think that we might never hear Khan being so gloriously adventurous ever again. However, the fact that this album is the better of Fur and Gold, which is amazing in itself, is encouraging and suggests a third album, with even more money behind her, may take us to a place even darker and more colourful than the planes she has taken us yet. Who knows? She may even find she has an inner redhead...