Pop Culture

Album Review: Bat for Lashes, ‘The Dream of Delphi’

On The Dream of Delphi, her sixth studio album as Bat for Lashes, Natasha Khan largely abandons the realm of fantasy. She’s still working with characters – here, she introduces the Motherwitch, which is also the name of the Tarot-style oracle card deck she designed and released in 2023 – but the archetype allows her to express a new kind of embodied physicality, not run from it. While 2019’s Lost Girls was based on a screenplay Khan wrote for an ’80s-inspired sci-fi vampire film centered around a gang of biker women, the new record is inspired by, dedicated to, and named after her daughter. In following the conception, birth, and growth of a human being, The Dream of Delphi feels earthly yet infuses the most domestic of spaces with a kind of cosmic wonder. “I can’t escape life by making beautiful things as much as I did,” Khan said in press materials. “But there’s sort of a beauty to my mortality now.”

The songs are indeed beautiful, though more sparse and ambient-leaning than anything Bat for Lashes have released before. There’s not only a tenderness but a lightness to it: a number of instrumental tracks whirling together pianos, synths, woodwinds, and wordless vocals are woven between more robust pop songs. Even at just over half an hour, the album feels outstretched and slightly unfocused, as if straining to reach album-length runtime. The titular and most fully-formed song on it arrives first, an enchanting invocation adorned by Mary Lattimore’s harp before it’s cut through by a shuffling beat. It primes us for an expansive listening experience, but perhaps that cinematic quality is only fully achieved when paired with its accompanying album film, The Dream of Delphi – A New Transmission. In relaying her journey of motherhood, there are moments when Khan retains the magical realism and theatricality that have become markers of her work, but strips away some of the drama; ‘Breaking Up’ and ‘Waking Up’, which combine to convey the dissolution of Khan’s relationship with Delphi’s father, are oddly indistinct and framed as interludes.

Although some of the songs lack muscle, the album also benefits from its malleability. ‘At Your Feet’, which was released as an advance single after the shimmering and straightforward pop of ‘Home’ and ‘Letter to My Daughter’, was improvised on the piano in the state of sleep deprivation that comes with new parenthood, and the words that eventually float through feel primal and potent: “What will become of you and me?” she ponders. Slight as it might occasionally feel, the album presents its wisdom not as grand but rather intimate revelations that can dissipate from one moment to the next. “You’re a gift/ You’re from me, but you’re not mine,” she intones on ‘Christmas Day’. It feels like an internal realization, but Khan is immediately compelled to pass down her knowledge in the form of poetry on ‘Letter to My Daughter’, singing, “Don’t give yourself up to thinking/ This ride is ever over/ Remember you came from a spiral unfolding/ A tender star while magnolia are slowly unfurling.”

It’s more than other artists spend whole albums trying to articulate, but you wish more the music – though still spell-binding – carried the same weight. It’s not that the songs feel undercooked; Khan has a natural ability to string melodies that soar, mesmerize, and transport across even the most ambient tracks. They are quiet devotionals that aren’t disconnected from the rest of the world so much as they seek a portal to it, and Khan deftly traces the universal in the personal moments she shares, comparing an “ancestral line or spiral in the cosmos” to “the spiral that I saw in her soft hair when she was a baby.” But there is a sense that the artist, however vulnerable in her songwriting, also casts a protective shield around it, preventing that wider resonance – inevitably tied to the global anxiety she experienced during lockdown – from rising to the surface. When the entire universe seems to revolve around a tiny human being, you have to be careful with your words, and so much of what Khan wishes to communicate, at the end of the day, is beyond them. It’s also, The Dream of Delphi suggests, impossible to ignore.

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