Bat For Lashes – The Dream Of Delphi

The art of creating timeless music from ordinary personal experiences…

There aren’t many major lyrical tropes in music that drive an artist’s oeuvre, compelling them to leave the house to tinker with instruments in a studio. The most powerful ones among them are break-ups and exes, falling in love, growing up and coming of age, the death of relatives, and the birth of children. The last one is the case for Natasha Khan, also known as Bat for Lashes, who dedicated her new album, ‘The Dream of Delphi’, to her daughter Delphi, born during the pandemic.

Of course, in comparison with, say, Nick Cave’s ‘Ghosteen’, which was written in the wake of his son’s death and encompassed a whirlpool of drama and heartbreaking emotions, it’s more challenging to compose strong and touching material on such a positive and more common event as the birth of a child. As a musician, you need to be a true visionary and a genius storyteller to connect your joyful experiences with some universal thoughts and feelings to interest listeners, grab their attention, and awaken their emotions.

To do so, Khan ventures into outer space with the help of minimal electronics, blending them with classics and… silence. She always gravitated towards synth-based genres even when doing folk and chamber music, and five years ago, her previous, 80s synth-pop-indebted, record ‘Lost Girls’ perfectly indicated the curve of her future sonic navigation. As a result, on ‘The Dream of Delphi’, sci-fi-ish synths juxtapose with a harp from Joanna Newsom’s playbook, psychedelic beats mix with piano, and saxophone appears adjacent to cyberpunk movie tunes, delivering perhaps her most enigmatic record to date.

The epochal opener ‘The Dream of Delphi’, heavily reminiscent of The Flaming Lips and filled with stomach-punching bass, despite its reticence, sounds as if it’s the story of the birth of a supernatural entity “falling from the sky.” Other tunes progressively unfold this conception of the “growing and birthing of this human being onto Planet Earth.” Using warped and very cinematic synthesizers on ‘Christmas Day’, the sparse and understated sound of ‘The Midwives Have Left’, the upbeat, almost poppy, Maggie Rogers-tinged synths of ‘Home’, and plot-forming naming and song order, Khan gently sketches with careful strokes a picture of the origin of life and its first steps in our world.

Unlike her two previous records, ‘Lost Girls’ and ‘The Bride’, which were based on full-fledged movie scripts and represented good old concept albums with rich cinematic stories, this one is much less verbose, filled with thoughts more like Terrence Malick’s ethereal reflections in his late films. “Your life, an echo, my darling / Of all before / Your life, an echo, my darling / Of all to come…,” chants Khan in the Japanese avant-garde-inspired ‘Letter To My Daughter’ with twinkling synths, trying to find that connection between the personal and the eternal.

Such a universal bond is also found throughout minimalist piano-led cuts like ‘At Your Feet’ and ‘Her First Morning’, soaring somewhere between Erik Satie’s and Claude Debussy’s piano suites. Transitioning throughout her career from folktronica refracted through a Björk or Fever Ray prism on ‘Fur and Gold’ and ‘Two Suns’ to the art pop of ‘The Haunted Man’ and to the chamber pop of her two previous offerings, Khan finally found a new angle for approaching her music with the birth of her child. Isn’t it very poetic?

With this more subdued, minimalist, and reserved sound, her new sonics are closer to Julia HolterKate NV, and Julianna Barwick than to Kate BushSiouxsie Sioux, or Fiona Apple, to whom she was often compared. Most of the time, her weightless songs float somewhere between cosmic nothingness and hush-a-byes, seasoned with countless Proustian madeleine moments like in ‘Her First Morning’, where she turns ambient from music for airports to lullabies for babies. However, ‘The Dream of Delphi’ is primarily interesting not for its sonics, which are quite common for ambient pop lovers with its hypnotic repetitions and ethereal melodies, but for Khan’s deep connection and passion for her baby.

We have heard a lot of fine records influenced by childbirth (even fictional ones) like Sharon Van Etten’s ‘Remind Me Tomorrow’, U.S. Girls’ ‘Bless This Mess’, and Laura Marling’s ‘Song for Our Daughter’, but most of them are limited by common folky household stories. Only a few succeeded in making a bigger story from it. The major success of ‘The Dream of Delphi’ lies in how Khan communicates with her daughter, which can resonate with many people. Like Brad Pitt’s character in ‘The Tree of Life’ or Matthew McConaughey’s in ‘Interstellar’, she launches into the universe a message that will last much longer than its author and even its recipient.

Just think about it: hundreds of thousands of people all over the world are ready to listen to your love letter to your child and then extrapolate it to their own children. Isn’t that how true art works?

8/10

Words: Igor Bannikov

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