Concept albums are famously hard to get a grip on. They can come across like overcomplicated prog-rock mazes or occasionally do the right thing by considering the music first and the concept second (see Kate Bush’s The Hounds of Love or Sonic Youth’s Sister for best examples). That’s what Bat For Lashes, Natasha Khan, has done with The Bridge. You could easily listen to this alongside her last few albums and not distinguish it as a ‘concept’ album, but in concept, it is a concept album – not that that makes a huge deal of sense. Khan isn’t new to concept albums; Two Suns was an album of dual personalities. But ‘The Bride’s character isn’t the opposing Mr Hyde that the alter ego on Two Suns was. It’s more of a character that Khan has chosen to play in a film, and the album works like a film. See it as a tragedy.
The story of The Bride is essentially on their wedding day, the groom dies in a car crash on the way to the wedding and the bride expresses her sadness that what should have been the best day of her life turns into her nightmare. The process of transferring the sound of the tragic wedding into music has been done perfectly – there’s nothing aggressive like on Khan’s sideproject Sexwitch, instead there’s strings on ‘Land’s End’ that could have slotted on Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool, minimalist electronic touches and shimmering guitars and pianos. And then, on top of everything, there’s a cinematic haze. To try and put it into words, imagine the colour of a Wes Anderson film in sonic form. That still sounds confusing, so we’ll just pretend that didn’t happen.
Natasha Khan’s music has always slowly bloomed rather than leap out, and The Bride may require several listens to properly ‘get’ the concept, or maybe it just refuses to be aggressive and shove its message onto the listener. It’s restrained, and that might be annoying for some people. Thankfully, we’re in the mood to listen to songs like ‘Joe’s Dream’ and ‘Lands End’ over and over again. These songs are impressive because they don’t require much to convey their sadness. On ‘Lands End’, there’s the orchestra, but there’s also a guitar that remains audible throughout. Khan sings ‘For my love, I will bleed / And I drive till I set myself free’, but these lyrics are so much more effective when you have to consider all of the story that has come before it. One of the things which makes the bride’s misery at her groom’s death is that she hardly ever mentions anyone else – there’s nothing of the mothers and fathers and relatives, it’s just bride and groom, and you get the sense that they’ve developed this little bubble of a world for themselves where only they exist. This comes into view on the song ‘In Your Bed’: ‘Let’s lay in your bed and dream together / In a world of our minds’.
The Bride needed its concept to be at the centre of stage, or this might just be an album about sadness and losing someone. But it doesn’t run away with its own story, it’s accessible and not hard to follow. It’s hardly The Wall, and all the better for it. But still, there’s a cinematic element, and just from the pieces of artwork that have come with the album, you can imagine this being transitioned into film (The idea for The Bride initially came as a short film). Khan herself called her short film pitch ‘very countryside, weird, English, surreal’, and that just about sums itself up. You can imagine that The Bride all takes place on English countryside roads, lit up solely by car lights. That kind of imagery is what makes the album interesting, but it’s the emotions that will keep you here to stay.
Funnel Recommends: Joe’s Dream / Close Encounters / Land’s End