Friday, October 19, 2012

TYPICALLY I REACH FOR HEADPHONES WHEN I'M LISTENING TO MUSIC, particularly if it's my first run at something. I want to hear it and get close. Aside from dissecting lyrics and vocals, I'm also digging into the production and other less-pronounced elements with nearly as much fervour. 

Twice lately, though, I've found myself unplugging and looking to blast music through speakers, out into a room. Unencumbered. Newcomer Jessie Ware (as featured on a couple of recent playlists) demands some space and a good subwoofer; her music feels visceral and live. Her debut, Devotion, hasn't left regular rotation in weeks. Only recently has something usurped her place, and it too asks to be blasted. 

Bat for Lashes' new album, The Haunted Man, is bassy and waily and actually sounds better with a bit of distance from the ear. Where you typically hear all the production tidbits better through headphones, I find myself zoning-in on new things each time I let it loose in my living room. A forest-for-the-trees scenario if not given a bit of geography. 

She opens with "Lilies", a huge song that feels potently joyful. She sings "I begged the thunderbolts to strike and mark me as alive," and I can only imagine how big it'll be on tour. Forty-five seconds in we get stompy synth and drum machines, begging for big speakers and bass beyond standard-issue headphones. When she bellows "Thank God I'm alive!", it's a borderline religious experience. The track is reminiscent of Björk in her hayday. (Remember when her music was listenable?) 

On a few tracks, things almost get a bit muddy, but it feels purposeful, the tones telling something of the subject matter. On "Oh Yeah" drum tracks, synth and swirly pianos, plus her voice, guitar riffs, group vocals and a boatload of reverb verge on uncomfortable through headphones, requiring a palette-cleansing follow up on "Laura". Throughout the album she employs a lot of instruments which lack clear edges: Timpani and soaring French horns, pan flutes played in ultra-low registers, cellos so far down they're almost undetectable, instead eliciting just a feeling. So many of the tonal choices are amorphous in a way, cloudy and indistinct. 

Two thirds of the way through, on the title track, she hits us with a snare drum (as if she knew our ears would need something to attach to) before "The Haunted Man" opens-up into more layers than The Rachel Cut, circa 1996. It's music that feels laboured and organised, thought-out, yet when listened to loosely, feels organic and happenstance. It isn't fussy and lacks the ornamental qualities of her earlier work. Less costuming, if you know what I mean.

The new album is missing a "Daniel", something as instantly kicky and poppy. Where Two Suns could work as gym music, The Haunted Man feels more personal and moodier, less polished and produced. It sounds way live and, at times, rough in its delivery. With this, her third terrific album, I think she's officially here to stay.

1. Lilies
2. Sleep Alone
3. Sad Eyes
4. Daniel
5. Moon and Moon



  1. Oh man, "remember when [Björk's] music was listenable?" Me and Dave were just talking about this. It's like... so long as you're only listening to Medulla and onward, it easy to forget just how great everything from Post to Vespertine is. But the moment you listen to the earlier stuff again, trying to go forward to the new stuff is like yikes. It's the exact same trajectory as Radiohead.

    But this top 5! I cannot believe Glass, Horse and I, or Trophy aren't on here, but Sad eyes is. To me the costuming of her work is precisely what makes her so compelling! But I'll have to get into The Haunted Man more, I haven't listened really at all.

  2. "The Haunted Man opens-up into more layers than The Rachel Cut, circa 1996." Haha. Looking forward to finally giving this album a listen. I've also gotten way into a good loud room blast lately as a means of absorbing a record. I'm sure my neighbours are thrilled.