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Bat For Lashes uncovers motherhood's musical inspiration on The Dream Of Delphi

"The Dream Of Delphi"

Release date: 31 May 2024
Bat For Lashes The Dream Of Delphi cover
29 May 2024, 09:00 Written by Matt Young

Multi-instrumentalist and artist Natasha Khan, under her Bat For Lashes nom de plume, has always ventured into realms of fantasy, fairytale, and poetry to relate her feelings.

Her music and lyrics are fluid elements that have continued to beguile and soothe since she debuted her acclaimed and Mercury Prize nominated album Fur and Gold almost two decades ago. As a songwriter she’s created narrative roles and characters throughout her career, such as Pearl on her first two albums especially, that have allowed her to embrace emotions and scenarios in which she was reticent to place herself. The Dream Of Delphi, her sixth Bat For Lashes album, purports to reveal Khan at her most vulnerable and raw like never before.

The lead single, title track, and album opener “The Dream Of Delphi” has been getting the most attention almost by default up to this point. It’s a deft, billowing expanse of a song that drops subtle glitches and beats broken up by brassy-sounding synths. The expansive sound, opening out into bucolic birdsong and cooing baby noises, showcases Khan’s musical ability and production in harmony. We’re also one song in and the character of Motherwitch, Khan’s protective parental armour is on the scene.

It’s worth saying that this album showcases motherhood, and more pointedly, Khan’s daughter is the inspiration. From conception, birth, and growth we follow Delphi and Khan’s effort to adapt, cope, and enjoy unfolds within its vignettes. These are songs, poems, some sung, some instrumental, some so light they’re barely there at all.

“Christmas Day” mixes metaphors of her child being her gift before overthinking her life away in the blink of an eye. “Letter to My Daughter” is a softly spun song of haphazard parping synth notes over which Khan bewitches with words of love. “At Your Feet” is a waltzing piano-led lullaby, accompanied by a mournful looming cello and a chorus of voices like overseeing angels.

As a conceit mapping out key moments of life on an album isn’t a fresh idea. It is new to Khan though so we’re presented with blinked snapshots from conception, newborn baby and early motherhood that try desperately to capture that unique love and explain the humanity and frail mortality on both sides. She’s always been so robust at examining female archetypes and exploring them richly within her music so whilst grabbing snatched moments of peace or time to work she’s crafted an album that does this again on a personal level.

The mesh of instrumentation on offer, pianos, flutes, and harps all blending with organs and synths produce a mix of organic ambiance that drift between sparse, droning atmospherics “The MIdwives Have Left” and fuller, resonant songs. The jazzy mournful interlude of “Breaking Up” outlining her breakup with her daughters' father is wordless and a filler, as is the also slight “Delphi Dancing” and “Her First Morning”. The album’s tracking loses focus somewhat after the halfway point. Much like a parent whose only conversation is around their child's personality quirks, or who shares endless, but very similar, photos, it feels like we’re in a headspace that’s slightly dulled to objectivity. “Home” and “Waking Up” buck the trend a little with brighter, more effervescent activity, but these revert to vocalising and sparse calm in due course.

A reprise of the title track with added orchestration and extended strings only serves as a reminder of how lushly the album began and highlights what’s been missing in the latter half. Khan as the producer can appear less critical than the songwriter and while the whole album possesses an innate beauty some material is very spartan and has you craving more actual songs. The very private intonations or moments that interest her don’t necessarily translate or engage an audience in the same way. We have far less invested in the subject matter than her and ultimately that begins to show in an otherwise wide-eyed creative rejuvenation.

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