I'm on the losing end of musical history. When bands produce breakout recordings, I'm usually indifferent to these monumental moments of music history, instead aligning myself with another—universally less popular—album. I proudly chose Tusk over Rumours, Candy Apple Grey over Zen Arcade, Being There over Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, The Bends over Kid A... this list goes on forever. And just as the hype surrounding Bat for Lashes' Two Suns reached a deafening pitch of album-of-the-year hysterics, it was clear to me that I preferred 2007's Fur and Gold.
That's not to say that Two Suns is a lesser recording, or even remotely flawed—it's not. When the dust settles, there is little doubt that it will be seen as the finest moment from the enigmatic British woman behind the Bat for Lashes moniker, Natasha Khan. But it was 2007's Fur and Gold that still resonates the strongest; this debut offering was an artistic shot across the bow, a flat-out stunning introduction that propelled Khan to the rarified standing of a respected, creatively minded pop frontwoman (comparisons to Björk or Kate Bush are more than fitting).
While Fur and Gold was sleepy eyed and dreamlike, Two Suns is a beautiful battle of personality that spills out in the album's poetic lyrics. Khan's spiritual self—a constant fixture in the Bat for Lashes catalog—has spawned a foil: a blonde temptress by the name of Pearl. While Khan is reserved, if otherworldly, Pearl is her deliberately schizophrenic other half, an uninhibited persona whose "blonde curls slice through your heart." Pearl's bold nature might conflict with the gentle nature of Khan, whose lone act of aggression comes via a generous percussion staff (the origin of which seems closer to a fortunate roll of a 12-sided D&D die than, say, a trip to Guitar Center) that, when slammed into the stage, produces a loud boom. When not armed—with a backing band or alternate persona—Khan exudes a soft vulnerability that gently permeates the music.
For an artist whose material seems most at home amid the rolling green shires of Middle Earth, it's surprising to hear "Daniel," the stellar lead single off Two Suns. Awash in '80s synth and bubbly pop—if you want to continue the Kate Bush comparisons, this is Khan's "Running up That Hill"—the song is a curious ode to the fictional Daniel LaRusso (the swept leg, unlikely champion of the All Valley Karate Tournament in Karate Kid), a suspicion hammered home by promotional photos of Khan with illustrated scenes from the movie painted on her exposed back. The single's video continues the theme, incorporating the fashion of Ali Mills/Elisabeth Shue (sleeveless red hoodie, smeared mascara) from the movie's climactic scene.
While it seems that Two Suns will (rightfully) be regarded as a significant moment of pop excellence, and Fur and Gold seen as little more than Khan's auspicious debut, the trajectory of these two recordings traces a similar path. Alongside Khan's vibrant lyrical world, both recordings feature the soft, yet never overbearing, influence of various male collaborators. Lift to Experience's tragically overlooked frontman Josh T. Pearson emerged from the abyss to make his mark on Fur and Gold, while Two Suns adds contributions from pop-psych outfit Yeasayer and vocals from reclusive rock legend Scott Walker. Bat for Lashes will always be the work of one woman—anything else just wouldn't be right—but these guest performers illustrate the high level of company Khan likes to keep. No matter which side of history you fall on, it's evident that the wake of Bat for Lashes will be felt for quite some time.