Be sure to thank your local photo editor for passing up the visual pun…
Patrick St. Michel: Natasha Khan has gotten very good at creating songs that blow romantic struggles into larger-than-life stories, all backed by music you really don’t want to compare to Kate Bush because it seems too easy, but ends up being the best fit. “A Wall” lets some light into Bat For Lashes’ usually downtrodden music — “where you see a wall/I see a door” at least offers hope for resolution — while still capturing the drama.
Jer Fairall: I wish the whole thing didn’t center around a lyric that reads like a slogan found on a poster on the wall of a hippie high school guidance councellor’s office, but for an artist that I’d casually written off on the grounds that I barely touch the Kate Bush albums that I own already, “A Wall” is a minor revelation. This has less to do with my finally buying into the artist’s carefully honed mystique, or her mildly provocative imagery (“from inside his mouth I lick the blood,” the opening line, seems typical in its merger of the menacing with the sensual), but rather with the striking range of her performance here. In one moment she’s sufficiently warm and maternal to make a lyric like “stop charging, my darling / come closer, be quiet” sound hopeful and encouraging before her tone turns bristling and sinister on the third or so repetition of “just sit still, does it hurt?” The music alternately hums and stutters behind her, a lush yet unsettled panorama for her psychodrama to play out the full scope of its possibilities.
Alfred Soto: The roller rink synths wake me up when she threatens to make a deal with God and swap our places but mumbles punchlines instead. Mumbling sexily is harder than it sounds.
Anthony Easton: It seems lazy and slightly misogynist to rattle off the witchy women that Bat for Lashes is playing with here, but even so, her talk of licking the blood and washing off the mud has an esoteric/occult-ish quality that strikes me pretty much in the middle of a PJ/Tori/Kate/Stevie Venn diagram. But there is something more, a little spikier, a little more abstracted or formally experimental (especially the splicing and doubling back of vocals), and a little more pleasurable.
Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: “I’m inside his mouth/I lick the blood” is one hell of an opening line, drawing to mind the animalistic, the sexual and gory viscera all at once, as though Natasha Khan has suddenly taken on the role of a horror movie’s Final Girl. As the song pinballs around, discovering new sounds in the lush world crafted by Khan and producers Dan Carey and David Kosten, the song blooms into something more pointed about human acceptance. The viscera looms over the song through to its shimmering climax, but “A Wall” is warmer and more cathartic than first impressions note: over a gauzed version of her own voice, she closes the song, willing it to safer havens.
Doug Robertson: Natasha provides us with another beautiful slice of shadowy blisstronica that flits about like a moth who wants to hang with the butterflies but can’t quite shake its desire to head toward the light.
Brad Shoup: It’s 2013, and I’d rather not be one of those “I don’t focus on the words” assholes anymore, so I read along with the tune. Maybe it’ll be more instructive next time: poor profundities in the setting and sadism detract from the lightly scratching percussion and drumkit canter. There’s a real easy lope here, a fine rainy-day production. But that Big Bad Woods fetish is too much for me.
Katherine St Asaph: “[I’m] standing by my haunted man,” Khan sings on her album’s title track, and it’s telling. Most tracks on The Haunted Man involve two people: one, troubled, often (but not always) a man; and the other, a woman, also troubled, somewhat self-abnegating and maybe half-alive herself, who is his salve. On “The Wall,” Khan’s something between a trauma nurse and cleaner wrasse, licking away blood and tamping down stress — but if that’s too much gore or woo-woo, the chorus is plainspoken: “where you see a wall, I see a door.” As music to pull through to, it works amazingly if you’re in a low enough place. (I was.) As a standalone track, though, “A Wall” is an odd choice; the verses and choruses take recognizable if blurry shape, but it’s more threadbare than “Horses of the Sun,” less topical than “Marilyn,” too genial for dancing and too insistent for much else. But where you see a single release, I see a door to the album in full.
Edward Okulicz: “A Wall” wrings bucketloads of atmosphere from a thin, dorky synth setting. What she does with it is either perverse or inspired, depending on your stance on Bat For Lashes. I lean towards the latter; her imagery is stark and provocative, but doesn’t feel cheap or obvious. Wedded to an optimistic hook-line, it’s as confusing and confused a drama as anything else not being played on the radio in 2013.
Iain Mew: The sleek musical simplicity of “A Wall” meant that it didn’t initially stand out on The Haunted Man alongside more spectacular and attention-grabbing arrangements like “Oh Yeah” and “Marilyn”. The more I listen to it, though, the more I become convinced that it’s the best song on there. Natasha Khan begins with an incredibly vivid first line (“From inside his mouth, I lick the blood”), but while her flair for mystical imagery is still present, it’s grounded in the realism needed to face a difficult situation. The switch from “he” to “you” makes a sort of sense if she sees the roaring and biting man of the tempest as a separate entity from the one she’s addressing for the rest of the song, but that is an article of faith. She patiently keeps on trying to share her hope regardless. It kind of reminds me a bit of the end of series 6 of Buffy, where Xander confronts his magically-transformed and enraged friend Willow and calls her down from her plans to end the world by loving her regardless. “A Wall” is not on the same flashy scale, but quietly just as powerful.