Bat for Lashes Evoke Youthful Abandon on ‘Lost Girls’
Natasha Khan has previously released four studio albums as Bat for Lashes, beginning with 2006’s folk-inspired “Fur and Gold.” Throughout successive releases, the English songwriter has explored varying realms of art pop and synth-tinged indie music, accompanied by equally haunting and enchanting vocals. Khan has also released droning psychedelic folk rock with her side project, Sexwitch. Her last album as Bat for Lashes, “The Bride,” follows the story of a woman whose husband-to-be fatally crashed on the way to the wedding. She’s now doubled down on a narratively-driven concept for her fifth album, “Lost Girls,” which centers the motorcycle-riding, girl gang-affiliated runaway Nikki Pink as its protagonist.
The opening track for “Lost Girls” was originally penned while Khan was working on music for a television adaptation of Stephen King’s “Castle Rock.” She partnered with Charles Scott IV, and the duo eventually ended up crafting all of “Lost Girls” together. It’s an ethereal, dreamy and nostalgic record inspired by Los Angeles and the ‘80s. Presumably deriving its name from “Lost Boys,” the 1987 vampire movie, the album features sci-fi and fantasy imagery in the form of vampires, desert sunsets, and young love. Instrumentally, it’s a full-blown cinematic synth pop endeavor inspired by artists such as Kate Bush, John Williams, and Cyndi Lauper.
The opener and first single “Kids in the Dark” sets the tone for atmospheric and nostalgic ‘80s synth music. There are swirling keys and reverbed-out snare hits, as Khan evocatively sings about getting lost in youthful romance, “Riding through the pines / See you in the red light / And everything is on fire / Let’s take it down / To the heart / Let’s take it down / To where the loving starts / Where we’re just kids in the dark.”
“The Hunger” features a mean, grooving bass which works its way through layers of bright, rolling synth tones. There are ghostly backing vocals as Khan sings “Take a trip, trip up to the sun / While our bodies are one and we play in our minds / ‘Cause it’s our blood, and it fills up the sky / Off the bridges we fly, can we keep us alive?” “Feel for You” is more percussively-oriented, with sizzling electronic toms. The vocals are sparse, “I love ya / I feel for you,” accompanied by bright synth and disco guitars, whereas “Desert Man” is a more features slow, deep synth and vocals about love and vastness, “You take me to that nowhere land / Pull me in with your both your hands / And just to love is all I can do to understand.”
The song “Jasmine” uses spoken word verses to portray a narrative of, in Khan’s words, “a girl that goes around killing men at night, burying their bodies at the bottom of a cemetery.” Khan sings, “She drives hard through the June gloom haze / Legs for days and bones of pearl / Her love hurtling down death’s highways / The hands of a killer, the heart of a little girl.” “Vampires” moves in a brooding, instrumental direction. A guitar lead exudes a dark energy as steady drums and atmospheric synths swirl all around. There’s also a saxophone solo and cascading synth melodies.
“So Good” features softly chanted vocals for verses and Khan sings on the chorus, “Why does it hurt so good? / You don’t treat me like you should.” “Safe Tonight” begins nearly a capella, with Khan’s melodic vocalizing over droning background synth and soft percussion. It’s a slow build, but it picks up speed, eventually incorporating an ascending, arpeggiated synth line and varying drum patterns with thick claps.
“Peach Sky” begins as more percussive-based, but there are buzzing and bright synths. The lyrics are pretty sparse, and an interlude includes the reversed lyrics “Am I on your mind? / Cause I want you all the time.” The closer, “Mountains” begins with piano and whisper-sung vocals. Slowly building kick eggs on the ballad, “‘Cause we both know, it’s not an easy ride / When it goes up in smoke, I just want to hide / Can we make it right like it was at the start? / Sing to me in the dark.” Khan gets increasingly impassioned as she repeatedly croons “Sing to me in the dark.” There’s low, buzzing synth, and a break at the end with grooving bass, dense drum slaps, and building, celestial melodies as the song fades out.
“Lost Girls” is a very atmospheric album, centering ambience and texture alongside Khan’s ever-ascendent vocal lines. At times it feels less like an homage or love letter to the VHS-era, and more like an authentic soundtrack from a recently unearthed time capsule. It may be derivative, but that’s more or less the point. There’s been a lot of deliberate care taken to study and recreate precise tones and textures. The result is an alternative, supernatural soundscape which captures all of the mood and energy of youthful abandon, love, and moonlit motorcycle rides.
“Lost Girls” is available Sep. 6 on Apple Music.