Thursday, June 21, 2012

A Delightfully Murky And Moody Musical Experience, Two Suns (Deluxe Edition) Is Worth Replaying!

The Good: Great voice, Some wonderful lyrics, Overall sound
The Bad: Derivative of other Bat For Lashes works, Lack of real distinction between songs.
The Basics: My first full Bat For Lashes album, Two Suns is much more enjoyable than it initially seemed!

Perhaps because I am so busy so often, my wife believes that I do not listen to her. The truth is, I love her, I listen to her, but sometimes, I simply do not pay enough attention to what she is actually saying. As a result, some of what she says does not make it into my long-term memory storage and she thinks I do not listen to her because, days later, she will ask me something about something I didn’t pay close enough attention to. I truly do love her, but this is the way my mind works. So, it caught her completely off guard when I have her the CD/DVD deluxe edition of Two Suns by Bat For Lashes.

This was a “risk gift” for my wife when I randomly gave it to her. She did not know any of the songs on the album and she did not own any Bat For Lashes c.d.s. However, on one of her many mixes she has that she plays in the car, there is a song, “Trophy,” that I always ask, “Who is this?” when she plays it. Her response over the years has become more exasperated as she says “Bat For Lashes!” So, I picked her up a Bat For Lashes album to show her I heard her. For the record, she loves Two Suns.

With nineteen tracks occupying 76:47 on one compact disc and a bonus DVD with forty minutes of video footage, Two Suns is a creative musical and visual work. All of the songs on the principle album are written by Natasha Khan – who is Bat For Lashes. Three of the bonus songs are covers. Khan provides all of the lead vocals on Two Suns and she plays guitars, synths, percussion, harmonium and other instruments on various tracks. She also produced or co-produced each track. Two Suns is very much her artistic vision.

Bat For Lashes’s music sounds much like, “like” makes it an analogy don’t freak out!, Evanescence or Nightwish. The songs have a distinctly Gothic haunted quality to them, while still being musically interesting songs that are fairly accessible. Using atypical musical instruments like the harmonium and slightly lower registers on the synths than dance music gives the album an intriguing, murky sound to it that is atypical in pop music today. Unfortunately, because so many of the songs have more mellow percussion and use so many of the instruments in the same, slow, dramatic way, the songs on Two Suns do have a tendency to sound alike. Unfortunately, given that I have only heard a single song by Bat For Lashes before this, I was disappointed how their sound seems derivative of themselves already. "Sleep Alone" sounds quite a bit, instrumentally, like "Trophy."

Vocally, Natasha Khan has decent range, presenting some of the songs in a higher register (“Daniel”) and going into the lowest alto range for tracks like “Use Somebody.” Unfortunately, while she has an impressive range – she tends to pick a range for each song and stick with it – she does not always enunciate. I swear in “Daniel,” I thought one of the lines was “under a sheep of rage in the house” until I looked it up (it’s actually “Under a sheet of rain in my heart,” which is a much nicer line). Frequently, Khan is competing with the instrumental accompaniment and that level of production is somewhat problematic on some of the tracks.

That said, it is very clear that Bat For Lashes has something to say. The songs on Two Suns are poetic and full of longing. Bat For Lashes perfectly captures the sense of longing one has when separated from a partner with simple lines like “You know my darling, I can't stand to sleep alone / No sweetheart in the dark to call my own / You're my own, you're my own, I can sing it, I can groan / But the darkness is a stranger and I'm lonely, lonely, lonely, low“ (“Sleep Alone”). She takes an old idea and makes it feel fresh again. Moreover, the phase “. . . lonely, 'cause my mama told me / The dream of love is a two hearted dream” (“Sleep Alone”) is wonderful and one I had not heard before now.

Bat For Lashes has a real way with imagery as well. In addition to making songs sound haunting and beautiful, she creates a clear picture in the mind’s eye of what she wants the listener to hear. When she sings “Lover, when you don't lay with me / I'm a huntress for a husband lost at sea / If I had you here / Braid our hair together / I'd be boy and you'd be girl” (“Moon And Moon”) it is very easy to envision the scene.

What I like as well is that Bat For Lashes is not married to predictable rhyme schemes on all of the songs. The poetics of the lines “Never fall in love with potential / 'Cause you can't see with your own eyes / All the pretty faces and sorry words / Can take away your pride / Got to listen to the vision” (“Travelling Woman”) are distinctive.

I’ve been listening to Two Suns in pretty high rotation over the course of the past two weeks and while I enjoy the album quite a bit, it functions almost as background music as opposed to a truly distinctive album. Outside “Siren Song,” there is not a single song that caught me each time it played and made me notice. When I stop to listen to Two Suns, it is quite good. But when it is simply on, it does not stand out.

The bonus DVD that the deluxe edition of Two Suns comes with is a documentary on the making of Two Suns. It's almost fifty minutes long and the only really informative comes up at the 37 minute mark. It's interesting to see someone creative try to talk about their process and the DVD does not have a very firm narrative, though it is interesting at times and well-shot throughout.

The best song is “Siren Song,” there is no real weak track, though most of the songs blend together and did not stand out after only a few listens.

For other, similar, works, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Eveningland - Hem
Highest Hopes: The Best Of Nightwish - Nightwish
21 - Adele


Check out how this album stacks up against others I have reviewed and read more music reviews by visiting my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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