The Student Playlist

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REVIEW: Bat For Lashes – ‘Lost Girls’ (AWAL)


In a sentence:

A concept album about girl vampire bikers in Eighties’ L.A., Natasha Khan’s fifth Bat For Lashes album ‘Lost Girls’ is her most all-encapsulating work yet.

Haven’t we had enough of ‘80s nostalgia? The mullets, the movies, the synth parade? The 30-year cultural cycle is strong and hard to dismiss, and however repetitive it might be to see yet another TV series or movie inspired by the decade, Natasha Khan’s fifth Bat For Lashes album Lost Girls is a wonderful fusion of the past and the now, the visual and the sonic. The swelling synths, pounding drums and neon pop melodies meet Khan’s cinematic vision – a paranormal story about a gang of girl vampire bikers hunting two adolescents – and peachy sunsets, vast vistas and night time driving manifest, all painted out in sound. Set in Los Angeles, the hot air whispers promises of unfurling the secrets of the supernatural, viewed through the lens of heady summer romance turned investigation à la Mulder and Scully, Lost Girls is dressed in musical compositions that are more pop than previous Khan’s works, but deserving all of the attention, as the glistening storytelling and array of great and varied songwriting make the record irresistible.

Khan has made several impactful slashes in the music scene throughout her career as Bat For Lashes. Having been nominated for the Mercury Prize three times – her 2006 debut Fur And Gold, sophomore effort Two Suns and fourth record The Bride, Khan’s as critically acclaimed as she is relevant in her musical storytelling craft, winning an Ivor Novello award for Best Soundtrack for her work on TV series Requiem earlier this year. Lost Girls seems to be a certain culmination of all the projects Khan has been undertaking over the years – the occult and paganism influenced songwriting from Two Suns, the powerful, sensuous darker energy from Sexwitch, the side project of Khan, Toy and producer Dan Carey reinterpreting psych folk songs from Morocco, Thailand, Iran and USA, and the visuals that sprung up from Khan’s move to L.A., where you feel like you’re in a Spielberg movie with the expansive skies and foggy panoramas, as Khan said in an interview with NME. It all blends into this heady ‘80s packaged concoction on Lost Girls, where catchiness meets visually compelling plot twists in the lyrics.

Music video for ‘Kids In The Dark’

The first single and opener ‘Kids In The Dark’ is a wistful falling in love of the two centre characters, Nikki Pink and her partner-in-crime Michael, narrating their intimate nights where being together is all that is needed. It’s a nicely paced romance between the characters and the synths that are featured, vaguely resembling something by the Cocteau Twins. ‘The Hunger’, in the video of which Nikki is seen dancing with the vampire gang in a sort of desert séance. Here, the synths go into cascade mode, and an organ takes centre stage as Khan sings about the bloodlust of the vampire gang. The poppy ‘Feel For You’ has a hook that’s hard to shake off, but one doesn’t have much choice as the uncomplicated lyrical content here is literally the two lines of “Oh, I love ya / I feel for you”. The pop ballad that is ‘Desert Man’ feels expansive and larger than life, with the thumping drums and layered vocals with plenty of reverb, it all coming together for the album’s central love song, as cinematically prescribed.

‘Jasmine’ is a standout track, a real Kate Bush affair, where film noir meets spoken word to describe a girl that goes around killing men, skulking around during night time and burying their bodies at the bottom of a cemetery: “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”, recites Khan, on top of an instrumental that by association feels like what the phrase smoke and mirrors would sound like. ‘Jasmine’ and the following slithering sax instrumental ‘Vampires’ comprise the darkest side of Lost Girls, as if suddenly from the world of lighthearted, romantic California, we’re thrown into the deep dark end of the supernatural, heavily Lynchian, penned by Khan and Charles Scott IV, the main collaborator on Lost Girls. ‘So Good’ fits this pair as well, much more upbeat in style, but still representing the vampire girl gang, one of the most danceable tracks on the record. The Lynchian thread shines bright on ‘Peach Sky’, where the feeling as if a big weight has lifted is mixed in with a touch of ‘Twin Peaks’, as the lines “Am I on your mind? / ‘Cause I want you all the time” are recorded backwards, giving it an unsettling feeling.

Music video for ‘The Hunger’

The closer ‘Mountains’ wraps up this paranormal affair nicely, the at first easy and intoxicating love now facing difficulties, with a tiny whisper of Nikki Pink possibly becoming a bigger part of the vampire gang than initially planned. Musically, the narrative line of the album isn’t the clearest, but that wasn’t the intention anyway. One can definitely imagine the tracks on Lost Girls soundtracking the story it offers in hints, outlined by Khan in interviews. It’s almost surprising how the material of a songwriter like Natasha Khan, who once sounded a lot more Joanna Newsom than if HAIM undertook the same task. Lost Girls might be Bat For Lashes’ most accessible affair so far, conceptually cohesive and irresistibly catchy, showing off its ‘80s guns in its ‘80s inspired paranormal story, but still attractive in the 21st century by taming its influences, sifting through referentiality and landing in that comfortable place of familiar, yet new. (8/10) (Aiste Samuchovaite)

Listen to Lost Girls by Bat For Lashes here via Spotify, and tell us what you think below!

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