Bat For Lashes Brings Heart and Soul to Nostalgic Synths on ‘Lost Girls’

I don’t need to dive deep into a hermeneutical piece in order to tell you one of the great noble truths of modern music: Bat For Lashes is one of the best artists we have. New album Lost Girls will be remembered decades from now as one of the most poignant albums of our era and certainly as one of her best. The passage of time will serve Lost Girls well.

Writers have spilled a few words over comparing the new album’s songs in that way they do when someone uses synths and drum machines in a certain way, writing that Lost Girls sounds like the Drive soundtrack. This is true in a sense: There is a potent dose of the evocative cool of Chromatics and the deep emotional hues of Electric Youth on the album. This is merely because Bat For Lashes (AKA Natasha Khan) is drawing from a similar source: elements of the past with the intent to create something fresh and contemporary. She succeeds, of course.

Khan has said in interviews that she was inspired by 1980s films, and there are certainly elements of that carefully sewn into the fabric of each of the album’s 10 cuts and 38 minutes. But we shouldn’t be shocked by this trajectory — and not because this is a path many artists have worn over the past decade. Khan’s been practicing some variant of nostalgia-infused modernity since at least 2012, or earlier, thereby aligned with the novel creative spark of the late 2000s/early 2010s zeitgeist.

Go back to 2012’s The Haunted Man and play “Rest Your Head,” a song that I’ve heard so many times since that it’s etched into my DNA. The elements of Lost Girls cuts like “Jasmine” and “Desert Man” are there: the synths tinged in dark essences, the nuanced and engaging rhythms, and Khan’s heartfelt and inimitable delivery of her exquisite lyrics. With Lost Girls, Khan is merely doubling down on that sound by rinsing it deeply and comprehensively in a palette that has become one of the most definitive of the 2010s. (Hell, you could even argue that 2009’s Two Suns and its cuts like “Pearl’s Dream” also provide a soothsaying view into Lost Girls.)

On Lost Girls Khan is realizing all of the electronic inclinations of her career on an album that, like the work of those Drive artists, taps carefully into the sounds of her youth — in this case, the ’80s — in a way that’s inherently modern and expressed in a way only Khan can. There’s no Jan Hammer or Duran Duran homages on here, though.

The aforementioned “Jasmine” has the synth-drenched and minor-keyed walk of a darker synth-pop cut from the likes of Depeche Mode’s Music for the Masses or Violator (the latter was released in March of 1990, but most of its recording sessions occurred in 1989). Khan owns it with the cinematic nature of her vocals. This song is a highlight of the record and of her career.

“Vampires,” an instrumental, sounds like The Cure as interpreted by Bryan Ferry and produced by Johnny Jewel, but with a tender ferocity and immediacy that defines Bat For Lashes. It covers a lot of territory in three minutes and I can see it finding utility as a cue in film and television. A gorgeously smoky sax solo leads the track, while chorused-guitar, acrobatic synths, and a gated rhythm section provide momentum. The combination of dark chords and soulful sax recall to an extent the solo work of Ferry sax player/keyboardist Jorja Chalmers.

The killer and fast-paced “Feel For You” has few words — merely a repeated mantra centered on the song’s title — under which a propulsive funk-fueled instrumentation engages in a deeply hypnotic way.

“So Good,” another great, dark synth-pop number, stands out for its catchy synth hooks and lyrics about how you can’t give up that romance that is clearly unhealthy for you. Check out the chorus: “Why does it hurt so good?/You don’t treat me like you should.” One lyric in the verse particularly hit me, “He gets excited and it makes me stay/But it’s a drug that never numbs the pain/And I’m the only one to blame.” Regardless of who we’re attracted to, I suspect we’ve all been in that position to some extent.

The ballad “Kids in the Dark” and the contemplative “Mountains,” respectively, open and close the cuts on the record. They are also those that most specifically sit in the Electric Youth realm. Like the duo behind such numbers as “Innocence,” “The Best Thing,” “Now Now,” and, yes, their collaboration with College on “A Real Hero,” Bat For Lashes slows things down to descend deep into pure emotion, while evoking a sense of minimalism even as the synths and tempered guitars are layered on.

Lost Girls is a beautiful and important album that uses nostalgia to examine the present, leaning on the flexible palette of electronic music to paint a deeply moving picture of the human experience. Khan achieves this in a way only she could and we’re all better off for it.

(Editor’s Note: The press release for this album discussed a fictional back story associated with the album, but I hadn’t read it until after I wrote the review and didn’t find a space in which to examine it. Essentially, it essentially posits Lost Girls as “The Bride’s mischievous younger sister, widescreen in scope and bursting with Technicolor intensity. It’s an album for driving in the dark; holding hands at sunset; jumping off bridges with vampires; riding your bike across the moon.”)

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