As Bat for Lashes, Natasha Khan creates in a form of herself that’s at home in dreams. Sometimes those dreams are nightmares, but they’re always surreal visions that manifest in the mind. With her new, mysterious band, Sexwitch, she takes two steps closer to the other side of the aisle and into the body. On the project’s self-titled debut, Khan immerses herself in a worldly, history-enamored idea of body music, one specifically meant to come out at night, the time when the supposed nefarious things come alive — both sex and witches.
Sexwitch is a passionately curious study of the relationship between rhythm and human physiology. And, like any diligent research project, that means looking across cultures and eras; this is the album’s richest gift to listeners. Its six tracks are all renditions of traditional folk numbers from the mid-20th century, only one of which is of Western origin; the others span Iran, Morocco, and Thailand. With an assist from producer Dan Carey, Khan and TOY, the British band with whom she occasionally collaborates, revel in the dark magic of examining aged artifacts — in this case, folk songs — to ignite the human body, even going as far as announcing the outfit through a game of hangman: another long-traditioned carryover that involves piecing a body together limb by limb.
All this giddily excessive mystique feeds the album’s nocturnal vibe. Khan completely inhabits her new, hissing alter ego here, her voice full of the zealous energy of someone speaking in tongues, though every lyric is in English, translated over from various languages. Her lyrics are chants that sound like they could be part of a riddle: “When I die, I’ll go back to where I was” (“Kassidat El Hakka”); “He will tease me with a thousand kisses”; “He addicted me and I addicted him” (“Ha Howa Ha Howa”).
Musically, Sexwitch does little to distract from Khan’s voice, which single-handedly animates these songs, dancing and slithering non-stop, complete with occasional self-described “funny sex noises.” The album is essentially devoid of crescendos, instead sticking to thickly layered, polyrhythmic beats. The few low moments all exist solely to leave room to build higher, like on “Kassidat El Hakka”, when two extra snare hits slip in per measure. Khan then gradually ascends into shrieks, her most unhinged moment on the record. It’s fun, it’s mysterious, it’s committed to its concept, and it could be the album of the Halloween season.
Essential Tracks: “Kassidat El Hakka”, “Ha Howa Ha Howa”