Lost Girls is a day-glo slice of synth-pop that pushes back against the dourness of its predecessor.
Natasha Khan’s work as Bat for Lashes has always had a grand bent to it, but it wasn’t until 2016’s The Bride that she dove head-first into third-person storytelling. A statement album by design, The Bride featured a grand narrative ambition cementing Khan as a lyrical novelist. As much of a step forward as the album was, it was almost the end of Bat for Lashes: Khan has said in interviews that she was unsure if she would make another record after The Bride. After its release, Khan moved to Los Angeles in an attempt to break through in the film industry. While that hasn’t happened yet, Khan did find enough inspiration in the City of Angels to create Lost Girls, a day-glo slice of synth-pop that pushes back against the dourness of its predecessor.
Synth washes and high drama are not especially new notes in the history of Bat for Lashes, but there’s a definite sonic mirror or inspiration that can be heard on Lost Girls. A reductionist take would be to call it the “Drive sound” after Cliff Martinez’s score for the 2011 thriller. But there’s a better comparison to be drawn to the icy soundscape of the Chromatics. However, Khan does not share that band’s chilly restraint and holds nothing back on Lost Girls. Part of this is because her voice is simply too grand to be held in some emotional dead zone. Even as she starts talk-speaking on “Jasmine,” she only does it for so long before her voice rises up to match the bright array of synths surrounding her.
If there is restraint present on Lost Girls, it comes from the inherently artificial nature of Khan’s musical approach here. Previous Bat for Lashes albums, particularly 2012’s The Haunted Man, got their power from the way Khan processed artificial sounds and created something organic out of them, though she were present in the room with you while listening. Lost Girls, by contrast, keeps the listener on the outside looking in, further adding to the feel of theatricality that Khan is aiming for. Lead single “Kids in the Dark” describes young love in hyperbolic terms, hearts aflame and wanting to live wholly for one other person. Conversely, “The Hunger” derives its ideas from ‘80s vampire movies, but the outsized passion is still very much there even if one doesn’t take the words literally. In crafting these vignettes, Khan seeks to make Lost Girls into a far more cinematic record than anything she’s ever attempted before.
Lost Girls is more of a jarring shift in direction than one would think from just its first few singles, but it’s a welcome change of pace that Khan pulls of admirably. After dipping her toes in a more third-person form of storytelling, she seems now to have fully embraced this technique. What’s more, her musical ideas have caught up with her lyrical ambitions, something that held back The Bride at points. Lost Girls almost didn’t exist at all. We should be quite thankful that it does.