Surrendering control is hard for perfectionists such as Natasha Khan, who with her Bat For Lashes project consistently masterminded precise celestial compositions of such spiritual magnitude shepherded by magical yet stylistic aboriginal visions.
The choice to liberate herself from comfortable guidelines and obsessed expectations – to let herself go whilst submitting to momentary fate – is what makes her latest creative endeavour SEXWITCH a mesmerizing experience.
Fundamentally, liberation and the battle against emotional oppression thread together the sextuplet of chants on SEXWITCH’s soul-capturing self-titled debut.
Bringing together Brighton-compatriots Toy and South London producer Dan Carey – who has worked with both acts previously (on Toy’s Join The Dots and Bat For Lashes’ The Haunted Man), – SEXWITCH is a spontaneous musical experiment made mysterious by its cryptic social media announcement. Yet it’s an experiment that unexpectedly brings an informative, relevant conclusion.
One day, Khan and Carey ventured into the cob-webbed catalogues of obscure 1970s psych records hailing from pre-radicalized Iran, Morocco, Thailand and United States; they were consumed by their passionate rhythms, rare status and their historical significance. Suddenly they felt a duty to re-generate them to modern European audiences. By translating them poetically into English, selecting aspects of inspiration, oomphing the instrumentation with extravagant energy and clearer production, it’s a gateway to its prototypes; stamping its own creative mark rather than lazily spawning veracious acculturation covers. This is clever in cases such as ‘Kassidat El Hakka’, where the repetitive nature of the older version would bore contemporary listeners. This decision is enough to convince the musically-inquisitive to discover the antecedent recordings and digest particular nostalgic scenes.
The groovy and single-accessible ‘Helelyos’ is the one of the most identical to its source (along with Alexander Skip Spence‘s ‘War in Peace’). Zia Atabi’s original hiccup funk is distinctively more parodist of James Brown’s erratic antics. Carey also replaces the middle-eastern brass with fuzzy psychedelic electric guitar whilst the context of the lyrics evolves from a Don Juan perspective into commentary on female bravery in the face of inescapable danger. Furthermore, the sympathy-provoking words on the other Iran heritage ‘Ghoroobaa Ghashangan’ grow stronger on the subject of freedom when paired with the rumour that the original Iranian singer Ramesh was executed for being a lesbian. The disenchantment, suffering and lost-in-the-wilderness atmosphere are kept intact on the SEXWITCH portrayal but the squelchy space oscillation in lieu of ‘Jean de Florette’ harmonicas is a different approach.
Khan admitted that she channels a force of bygone witches whilst performing these overpowering songs – hence the sacrificial-sounding act moniker – Chanpen Sirithep’s ‘Lam Plearn Kiew Bao’ and Bennasser Oukhouya’s ‘Ha Howa Ha Howa’ call for an immediate exorcism. On the former, she adopts the swooning accent of a Thai mor lam in a state of jealousy making Khan unrecognizable. This is nothing compared to the latter track, the Moroccan origin ‘Ha Howa…”, in which Khan’s furious hypnotic wails reach screaming velocity – think the vocal power of BFL’s ‘Horses of the Sun‘ and ‘Two Planets’ and multiply its anger. What would normally be ironed out in an overly-edited and long album sitting – this LP was recorded in a single take on one day- was kept as the ultimate expression of liberty.
Drowning in its pool of exhausting and sensory psychedelic liquid makes it easy to forget that SEXWITCH’s LP is only six-tracks long. With Natasha Khan’s short film for MTV on the horizon, the anticipation of a similar time-illusion adventure has surged.