Natasha Khan is a woman of many guises. Already operating under the pseudonym Bat for Lashes, Khan has adopted an alter ego named Pearl for her sophomore effort, Two Suns. Described as “a destructive, self-absorbed, blonde, femme fatale … who acts as a direct foil to Khan’s more mystical, desert-born spiritual self,” Khan accesses Pearl as a means of exploring the duality of such celestial heavyweights as planets and the sun, not to mention the duality of self and relationships. It goes without saying that, in the wrong hands, a concept this mystically loaded could have resulted in cosmic catastrophe. So it is to Khan’s great credit that Two Suns is a resounding success, full of warmth, unfading spirit, and, by the penultimate track, “Traveling Woman,” an album that finds its protagonist reemerging a newly independent spirit who is advised to “listen to the vision/play in the ashes of what you once were.”
The album features collaborations from Brooklyn-based psych-pop outfit Yeasayer as well as Scott Walker, who contributes his quivering, vibrato-laden vocals to the final track, “The Big Sleep.” Perhaps the biggest contributor of all is the inclusion of expansive, Peter Gabriel-sized synths, providing the fire under which many of these eleven tracks sizzle. Kick-off single ”Daniel” rides in on waves of keys and cuffed guitar that recall some of the greatest of ’80s past (think the epic storytelling of Kate Bush paired with the gypsy-eyed mysticism of Stevie Nicks and you’re somewhere in the right ball park) all the while retaining a modernized sound and identity that is Khan’s own. Much different from the baroque, stubbornly unconventional stylings of Khan’s debut, Fur and Gold, with “Daniel” Khan offers up one of the year’s most melodiously rich, straightforward, and well-crafted pop songs.
On the chorus to album opener “Glass,” we find Khan’s stunning voice being hurtled sky high, its toughness providing a nice juxtaposition to the overtly fantastical imagery eluded to, which ranges from “emerald cities” to “crystal towers” to “capes of red and gold.” But perhaps most stunning is the ultimate clashing of Khan’s two personae’s on album centerpiece “Siren Song,” in which Khan promises a man, “I’ll always be happy to kiss you/ Promise I’ll never get sad.” By the time the harrowing chorus kicks in, Khan finds a force “driving me evil,” and Pearl introduces herself with “blond curls [that] slice through your heart.” It’s the ultimate inner battle of good and evil, one that even the best of us wrestle with when making ourselves vulnerable to the entanglements and snares of love, and one that Khan has found her most confident and enthralling voice in yet.