This album review is by guest blogger Michael Armond
Bat For Lashes (aka Natasha Khan) has always been an outlier in the indie songscape. Tending to play in the borderlands, she has created a niche sound that defines her throughout her career. First bursting onto the scene with 2006’s “Fur and Gold“, she captured the attention of many with her baroque-pop melodies and tantalizing songwriting, even going so far as to be nominated for the Mercury Prize the following year.
After her well received debut, Khan dug further into her dark pop aesthetic to produce “Two Suns“. A confusing mix of storytelling, grand sweeping crescendos, and an alter ego, “Two Suns” comes together as an eclectic, well balanced record. It also spawned her biggest hit to date with “Daniel”, a synth-forward love song to a fictional character she fell in love with as a teen. If “Fur and Gold” introduced us to her, “Two Suns” solidified her image as a songstress with an ear for the magnificent, both sonically and lyrically.
Feeling the burnout from such a grandiose burst onto the scene, Khan stripped back her sound with 2012’s “The Haunted Man“. The album received generally positive reviews despite Khan stepping away from the brooding baroque sounds she had cultivated up to that point. The lead single “Laura” features Khan at what could be considered her most vulnerable. She laments over a sparse and twinkling waltz played on a piano before rising up on the chorus to belt “Laura, you’re more than a superstar!”
Her final endeavor as part of the Parlophone Records artist roster took a bit of an unexpected curve as she donned the narrative of a bride who was left on the altar, alone. Her husband, “Joe” had been in a car accident on the way to the wedding. With her husband dead, the lead character goes on her honeymoon alone, dealing with her grief. “The Bride” received generally positive reviews from critics, praising her ability to delve into such a complex storyline and maintain the emotional content throughout.
Now we find Khan in an interesting middle ground between where she started and where she has come. Would Khan return to her baroque-pop roots after having a couple of albums to toy around? Or would she continue to play around with narratives, potentially reopening up some of her past alter egos such as Pearl and “the bride”? Announced through cryptic vlog-style posts, her newest project (and fifth album), “Lost Girls“, was kept hidden until recently.
In the lead single for the new project, it becomes very clear as to what realm Khan was planning to take us with the newest endeavor, the 1980s. “Kids in the Dark” fades in slowly before erupting into a whirlwind of nostalgia with a dramatic edge to it. The song plays at a romance wanting to be simpler, begging her lover to tell her that they’re not leaving before gliding into the chorus “Let’s take it down, Where the loving starts, Where we’re just kids in the dark.”
Following “Kids in the Dark”, Khan released four more singles over the course of the lead-up, each with a Stranger Things style production. She has been interestingly mixing her 80s sound with a mysterious and edgy tone. “Feel For You” might be the most confusing (and a tad bit underwhelming) of the releases, sounding more like background music than a true single. “The Hunger” presents itself like a black parade, with heavy pounding drums and a blaring organ throughout the chorus. “Jasmine” is a mix of a spoken word horror story and a glistening chorus. One of the most impressive tracks to be released prior to the album was “Desert Man”, a track that, at its heart, is a Bat For Lashes classic. Sweeping drums and choral harmonies take “Desert Man” to a realm that would fit in perfectly with the celestial grandeur of Two Suns.
With the first half of the album already released, listeners have a pretty clear idea as to where Khan was taking them, but the question was truly where they would end up. The second half of the album starts with an instrumental that sounds like it stepped off its motorcycle just to blow a puff of cigarette smoke in your face. “Vampires” is 80s nostalgia at its finest: slightly romantic, slightly dangerous, always avoiding the subtle. It serves as the perfect precursor to “So Good”, a track where Khan asks “Why does it hurt so good, when you don’t treat me like you should?”. It’s a definite standout track, presenting itself like a girl at a karaoke bar, pining at her love.
Following the tension of “So Good”, the album closes in a sound of resolve. “Safe Tonight” and “Peach Sky” pull back and the throbbing synths for a more soft and glittering sound. It feels like all the questions Khan had been asking in the first half are starting to be answered, and whether or not it’s what she wanted to hear, the resolve is release from those binds.
Closing the album is “Mountains”, another standout. The delicate start feels like a return to Earth, similar to her sound on 2012’s “The Haunted Man“. “We both know its not an easy ride, when it goes up in smoke, I just want to hide” she whispers on the chorus before asking for someone, potentially a lover, to sing to her in the dark. Following the first chorus, the production blossoms into something that can only be described as if someone took a modern day EDM banger and set it to lullaby mode. The album closes with a shimmering fadeout, not too different than the one we start the album with. It signals the passing of troubles and peace finally being received.
Having recently moved to Los Angeles, Khan’s sound has taken a sharp influence from its mix of city grime and seaside wonder. Gone are the lush English mountainsides, instead replaced with midnight motorcycle rides on the 405. Her quirks are still there, just coated in grit and nostalgia.
The album thus far has been promoted through new stories of aliens, girl-group motorcycle gangs, and another character for Khan to play, Nikki. Although lyrically, you would not pick up on any of these themes from a cold listen, there is a definite nod in the production. The suspenseful synths and pounding percussion play out like a love letter to 80s cinema, bold and daring.
Overall, “Lost Girls” is another success from Bat For Lashes. Although the album feels like it wanders from time to time, it returns back to its core themes gracefully to tell a story of danger, love, and resolve in the end of it all. Khan fuses her old with her new, creating a landscape meant to transport the audience to somewhere familiar, yet fascinating and fresh.
STAR RATING: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Standouts: “Kids in the Dark”, “Desert Man”, “So Good”, “Mountains”
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