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Along the Edges: Bat for Lashes

For this introductory article in Pop Music Club's new feature, Along the Edges, I wanted to focus on something new. It would be easy to reach into the bag of obscure artists past to show how they've been influential or at least contextually interesting. But one of the most important parts of fringe music is that, of all pop, its attempt at outright newness is the most overt. Listening to an artist like Natasha Khan aka Bat For Lashes definitely feels like something new. It's not that her influences are too oblique (far from it) or that she's using a lot of new technology (quite the opposite). Maybe it's just that it sounds unfamiliar. Take Bjork and put her in the middle of the Arizona desert halfway between Kate Bush and Depeche Mode, then you might have a vague concept of what Bat For Lashes is all about. Natasha Khan embraces a mix of magic and human intimacy for her lyrics and this is often reflected in the instrumentation she chooses for her songs. Drum machines share space with roots-ish guitars and wispy vocals on high reverberation. Rarely does one person sound so expansive. It's more than likely that many of the people who picked up 2007's Fur and Gold did so to hear more electro-pop like the minor hit single "What's a Girl to Do?" Those listeners must have been either delighted or disappointed to find an album full of subtly aching piano tracks backed by a downright moony sense of detachment and poetry. Those same listeners might also find it worthwhile to grab the latest from Bat For Lashes, the recently released Two Suns. Gone is the spooky countryside sound, decidedly replaced with a respectable synth not unlike the variety brought into the most recent repertoire of fellow fringe act M83. This is not to say that Bat For Lashes has abandoned the more organic sounds that keep Khan from being an inconsequential electronic act. Two Suns is far from being just another collection of clicks and whirs. Bat For Lashes is not music you play at a party or put in the background during a project to flavor the air. It's better for long, lonely car trips or, gasp, just sitting down and listening. I know it's not really in the modern mode to just sit and listen to an album, but there are ways around the compulsion to get up and go. Say you're on a long train ride or busing between work and home. That's what portable music devices are for, really. To listen to something like "Siren Song" with the world outside rushing by is the emotional equivalent of hot cider on a cold day. If she keeps her current pace, Natasha Khan might see the pop world catch up to her dreamy sound in five or ten years. She's managed to take the reigns of a wiley musical beast that other artists like Tori Amos and Lisa Germano never managed to tame. I don't imagine Bat For Lashes is ever going to be topping any charts, but the essence of fringe music is that it doesn't appeal to everyone. It skirts experimentalism while remaining accessible, finding some great moods along the way.