JD Samson (Le Tigre, MEN) Talks Bat For Lashes’ The Haunted Man

I could write this piece like a fellow musician, producer, woman, or feminist, or just your average music listener. And probably, I will end up...

I could write this piece like a fellow musician, producer, woman, or feminist, or just your average music listener. And probably, I will end up writing it like all of the above, in some kind of patchwork, roundabout way. Each thought may tend to morph into a completely different identity, a new opinion, or a fork in the road. And conceptually, this is also how I feel about the new Bat for Lashes record, The Haunted Man, and the way it communicates to me. Its collective twists and turns wound me up like a spring. Some moments, I found myself cringing, and the next I was silently cheering about decisions made in my listening favor. And fervor.

And so it begins. Most humbly, I would say. The Haunted Man is another installment of Natasha Khan’s ever-powerful vocal reign, and her oh-so-trampled-on and squashed instrumentation. Maybe you could have guessed: I write this part as a producer and a weaver of instruments and vocals. So, I apologize if, for the time being, my attention sits somewhere separate from what just might be the obvious reason why Bat for Lashes is a beautiful part of “NOW.”

I get that she has a beautiful voice, and I give her a lot of credit for her talent. Singing is not easy, and for certain it should be the focus of the record… in some way. But maybe the force of her vocal is handled too blatantly for my taste. Then again, I’m a producer. And a conceptual one at that. Someone who begins the journey with a BEAT. And you know what? There are good beats here. I promise. And they aren’t hard to find. Just hushed with reverb, and falling behind in volume while the vocals take the lead with big, strong, smooth effects and never a moment of contrasting texture. Like me, the drums feel frustrated, constantly trying to catch up to Natasha and her voice. Like the big sister that always takes the spotlight.

And as I keep moving forward there are moments where I’m begging: turn this up, turn that up, TURN IT UP. But I just never get what I want. This adventure, as I mentioned, has me winding around this obstruction of my listening flow. I reach a point where I give up my stress and just decide to fall in line. In some kind of acceptance of change. Her voice. A new kind of listening. Critically, I’m questioning so much, but literally, I keep losing grasp of what my stance actually is. Do I hate this? Or do I like it?

And then, as the drum programming on “Horses of the Sun” goes deep in my bones, this internal listening struggle feels like a climax. All of the sudden, I’m listening. And with the next track, “Oh Yeah,” I must say I’m listening harder and enjoying it. By the end of the song, I heard something. Wait, this is Tangible. Artistic. This is a Realness moment. Raw. I like it. But I notice it’s not necessarily her voice I’m falling for…

So the wave continues. Up and down. Up and down. Throughout the rest of the record. Moments of satisfaction. A sound, a decision. And moments of irritation.

In the end, “Laura” is clearly the most catchy track, and the most minimal. Classic. No bells or whistles, or trying to be more SBTRKT or the XX or Grimes, like some of the other moments on the record. It’s just a fantastic vocal that sounds amazing and a piano that I wish went on twice as long. I was happy to find out later that it’s the single. To me, it’s perfectly subversive with its bare bones, and exactly what it should be: a song. It made me reconsider the rest of the record. And what it means to make music too.

JD Samson is a musician/producer/artist living in Brooklyn. She is one third of feminist punk band Le Tigre and lead singer of the band MEN. She currently teaches at the Clive Davis School of Recorded music at NYU. You can follow her on Twitter here.