On September 6th Songstress Natasha Khan, better known by the moniker Bat for Lashes, releases her fifth studio album, “Lost Girls”. The album is the follow up to her evocative 2016 release “The Bride”. Her latest offering sees her take another brave leap into the counterintuitive. Khan proffers the idea that there is something about 80’s era music that is timeless. Khan on “Lost Girls” attempts to time-travel back to her 80’s childhood. The new album harkens to the works of 80’s artists such as Bananarama, Madonna, Peter Gabriel, and The Blue Nile. As is her custom Khan demands that the listener fully immerse themselves in the conceptual surroundings she has created to fully appreciate the new recording.
Khan after the release of “The Bride” believed that she had recorded her last album. She proceeded to move to L.A. and work on scriptwriting and soundtracks opportunities. She gained success earning a 2019 Ivor Novello award for Best Soundtrack for her musical work on Requiem. She also collaborated with Bobby Krlic, aka Haxan Cloak, on the short film Light Beings. Khan during her time in LA found a rich seam of theatrical sonics that would imbue her latest release. She would begin by working in secret believing the tracks might never see the light of day. Her experiences growing up with 80’s teen films and vampire movies would become the driving inspiration for the resulting album.
On “Lost Girls” Khan is unashamed in utilizing what has become trademark 80’s sonics and making them her own. For listeners who came of age in the ’80s, there is significant enjoyment trying to envision which songs would be best paired with the movies of that era. For example, the first song “Kids in the Dark” could have come straight from the movie “Lost Boys”. It is loaded with gloriously ethereal synths, brooding guitars and bass, with some contemporary Beach House atmospherics. The lyrics express a yearning for permanence in love and the obsession of looking for the perfect relationship. On this track and throughout the recording Khan’s delightful voice is mesmerizing, proving she could sing the phonebook and make it sound alluring.
The percussion-driven “The Hunger” charms my ageing heart. Khan channels Peter Gabriel’s “SO” album with her use of the Synclavier, polishing up that effect for contemporary listeners while she does her best “Kate Bush “vocally. The swirling chorus along with the lyrics examines how obsession can push reality to the edges. Again, the track could have fit seamlessly into the titular vampire movie of the song’s title.
The track “Feel for You” ushers in a funky dance vibe, veering away from the more ethereal sonics of the first two tracks. The deep throbbing bass provides the support for the crystalline synths that float over top. The track, in the end, celebrates the discovery of love. “Desertman” is glorious in how it builds into an exploding atmospheric rumination. Khan at her best is always trying to disentangle the contradictions of love, and she is at the top of her game with this selection. She is at once daydreaming about her dream lover and arriving at the conclusion that the personification of that love often lets her down, “Your love is a nowhere land”. Again Khan utilizes a soundtrack feel to convey her deeply held beliefs on the nature of love. The cinematic complexity of “Jasmine” makes for a “do not miss” track. The flickering/bleating synths provide the stage for Khan to examine seduction, the pain in pleasure and the drawbacks of love. Again and again, the beauty of Khan’s voice is highlighted and nowhere better than on this song.
A magnificent example of what Khan has gained in her recent soundtrack experience is “Vampires”. This instrumental is breathtaking; its murky Cure like sound is so pitch-perfect that I expected Robert Smith to break into the track at any moment. It felt like a lost track off of “Disintegration” and that is not a bad thing.
Gears switch again with “So Good” a straightforward 80’s synth track that could have been the end credit song for some long-hidden John Hughes teen flick. That might seem improbable or derivative but rather than be off-putting it is the mastery of the form that makes it exceptional. I think credit goes to Khan for providing that hesitation of dark introspection that keeps things from getting too saccharine sweet. “Safe Tonight” is Madonna circa “Desperately Seeking Susan” era. The narrative is a lost individual who finds their other half and that is what ultimately saves them. I would almost go to the mattresses with anyone who disagrees with that statement.
“Peach Sky” enters the more familiar territory for prior Bat for Lashes fans. There is an aching wistfulness that is heartbreaking as the protagonist is ensconced in an unrelenting teenage crush. What makes it even more painful is the realization that not only is the stalking wrong but the shame of knowing there will be no happy ending, “You and I know it ain’t right… I want to do it right, I won’t chase you down… I’m your girl”. The track is full-on Sixteen Candles/Some Kind of Wonderful and anyone who has had that kind of crush can empathize even 30+ years later. On the track Khan utilizes the Synclavier like a time machine returning the listener to the era of its first widespread popularity. The final track, “Mountains” is a piano ballad that builds into an explosive sonic panorama delivering the final payoff. It is a soaring song that concentrates all the ideas expressed throughout the album beautifully before signing off.
Khan never allows current musical conventions to limit her creativity or experimentation. Where there are many who with good reason dismiss the music of the ’80s as forgettable, Khan instead suggests the many of its elements are timeless. She uses those signature sounds to provide a modern examination of love. She walks a tightrope between reminding those who grew up in the ’80s of the sonics of the time and being too niche for today’s glazed over devise obsessed listeners.
Along the way, she avoids making a throwback release that could be easily dismissed, instead offering familiar sounds that are refreshingly engaging. I can only speak for my age demographic in stating that there is something so satisfying in hearing those sounds once again so beautifully composed. In the end “Lost Girls” is an impressive and approachable release that is stylistically miles away from the epic, grief laden ”The Bride” of her last outing. “Lost Girls” leaving the listener hoping this is not the last we have heard from “Bat for Lashes”.