As suggested by its striking cover art, The Haunted Man is the moment where Natasha Khan, aka Bat For Lashes, proves she’s strong enough to stand naked, both figuratively and literally. Her third, gentlest and most ballad-oriented effort yet is lightly adorned with autoharp, electronically estranged guitars, gossamer keys and symphonic orchestration that never upstage her whole-hearted vocals. As co-producer, Khan favors an incorporeal approach, placing phantasmic textures before hooks. She makes room for beats, but they are typically halting, stopping and starting again as if to reinforce the album’s underlying theme of building up and letting go – sometimes at the same time – of intimate yet unstable connections.
Over and over again, Khan sings of lovers traumatized by the past, and how those ghosts haunt the present. In the album’s most immediate track “All Your Gold,” Khan sings of “a good man” that she struggles to trust with a heart that a previous lover turned black. She often adopts a motherly protector role, as on the percussive “Rest Your Head,” but she also battles with her own demons: In the slow-burning title track, she aims to heal a wounded soul, but admits, “Yes, your ghosts have got me too.” Khan may be the most self-contained and confessional of the current crop of female sing-songwriters, yet she resists over-sharing. Instead, she balances empathy and aching sincerity with understatedly nervy arrangements that favor mystery over familiarity. What might come off as austere in others simply seems natural for Khan.