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Bat for Lashes: Shining light in the darkness

An eclectic British singer, songwriter and instrumentalist mixes hope and melancholy on her third full- length

By Bryan Reesman
Special to MSN Music

©Eliot Lee Hazel
Bat for Lashes (©Eliot Lee Hazel)

Performing and recording as Bat for Lashes, British singer/multi-instrumentalist Natasha Khan is a captivating figure in a world of cookie-cutter pop music. Combining art-rock eclecticism, synth-pop energy and symphonic grandeur, her often melancholy tunes lead us through our darker moments to help us cope with and learn from them.

While Khan frequently gets compared to Tori Amos, Kate Bush and Björk, she is equally influenced by male sonic adventurers like Brian Eno, David Bowie, Peter Gabriel and Lou Reed. Her latest album, "The Haunted Man," picks up where her excellent sophomore effort, "Two Suns," left off, exploring themes of loss, love, doubt and hope. She possesses an achingly beautiful voice that suits her haunting repertoire, but it's not all dark stuff, as Khan testified when speaking with MSN Music.

MSN Music: Your music balances melancholy with hope, like rays of light piercing through the darkness. Is music like a personal exorcism for you?

Natasha Khan: For me, that happy-sad dichotomy is what life feels like. Often in your messed-up moments you feel that you can have that existential joy -- like when you feel you have nothing or are stripped of everything, that's almost like liberation. I love the Cure, and I feel that they're great at that, this beauty in the sadness. For me, that's the bittersweetness of being human, I suppose.

I imagine a lot of people must listen to your music and think you're depressed a lot, but you seem quite content.

I think I'm generally a quite happy person; I just feel a lot of people's vulnerabilities. I think I'm sensitive to painful feelings, and so often I'm just exploring those things because I find them fascinating or understand them or want to shine a light on dark things that other people don't. I think there's a beauty in doing that because through shining a light on it, it dispels the myth of it, and it becomes something that you just integrate into yourself. Then it's not this big, dark monster. I think it's quite a beautiful thing to be involved in all the shades from dark to light because we're all multidimensional. I wouldn't say I'm just one thing or the other; I'm all of those things all the time.

When you collaborated with Beck on "Let's Get Lost" for the  Twilight: Eclipse soundtrack, did it feel like working with a kindred spirit?

Yeah, it felt like a romantic, sonic love letter that we emailed back and forth to each other. It was quite sensual and dark, and I remember being excited when he sent his vocal part. [Fake Queens accent] "Wow, that's so romantic!" It was great. We were just trying to capture that dark, sexy feeling, and I think we had the same vision and it worked. It feels quite intimate and secret and not as impersonal as it sounds.

Bing: Bat for Lashes

Your new album cover is provocative. Many people are merely going to see the nudity, but there's more to it. You're carrying a guy who looks limp like a mannequin. He could be a metaphor for a variety of things: dead weight or perhaps the ghost of someone or some relationship you're carrying around. Were you going for something specific or leaving it open to interpretation

I like the fact that people all think different things. I wouldn't want to explain it away in a particularly black-and-white way. It could be everything that you've described, or it could be showing the nurturing power of women or rescuing that person or being weighed down by the past or some relationship baggage. It could be my son.

It also comments maybe on the weird situation right [now] with powerful women who are getting stronger and more masculine in a way, and I think that's leaving a lot of men feeling emasculated or not sure where they fit in or what they're needed for. I think that causes a lot of frustration in relationships, with people I've spoken to.

I think it's partly women's fault in a way for trying to do everything and not leaving space for the innate masculine strength to come and create a whole. I think that all of us are a little bit confused about what we're supposed to do for each other. [Laughs] As a powerful woman I want to let go of carrying the man because it's not the man's fault that I've taken it on myself. And maybe if I stop trying to do everything, I can create some space for a man to come through and be a strong masculine presence, and that would be great. Maybe that will lead into the next album. You have to let go of the old things before you can move on.

The captivating closing track, "Deep Sea Diver," addresses emotional exploration -- perhaps someone who is searching in the dark and afraid of what they'll find?

The "deep-sea diver" is someone who goes down into the darkness and is faced with that existential void, like the space man cut away from the ship, that kind of floating, drifting in darkness. I want to encourage the person I'm talking to in that song, whether it's myself or my loved ones, about sitting still with yourself. It might be scary, and in that song it says you're like an animal, you feel like you've developed a different skin and I wouldn't recognize you if you actually were sitting here just being with me. It's all right to feel things, it's OK to be sad, it's OK to sit with yourself for a bit and it's OK to let your hair fall back and just relax. Sometimes a fear of intimacy can stifle relationships and can really hold us back, and I'm trying to soothe or encourage to just sit still. If it hurts, it's OK.

Regular MSN contributor Bryan Reesman writes for American Way, Playboy, Grammy, Inked and other outlets. Check out his site Attention Deficit Delirium at

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