Isolated by its own motives
Natasha Khan, professionally known as Bat For Lashes, has recently come to establish herself as more than just a songwriter. Her music stems from something deeper than an emotional association – it comes from her fascination with the world and the stories she tells herself. She regards herself as a kind of concept musician, and Lost Girls is her latest tale – an 80’s romance reigning true to the sounds and screens she grew up with.
In a video interview for NME, Khan describes Lost Girls as the most liberating moment in her career. She recently moved to LA, where the movies and characters she loved as a child were suddenly revitalized. She was there, on and off the screen, reliving every scene and memory, which subsequently became the driving force behind her newest narrative, and the record itself. It follows Nikki, a girl obsessed with the macabre, who, after falling in love with a boy, drives through LA hunting down a group of mythical girls – the lost girls. Khan’s music becomes incredibly cinematic because of her process, such that it could probably pass better as a soundtrack than an album, unequivocally stylized nonetheless.
“Kids In The Dark” opens with immersive clarity, on clean synths and Khan’s soothing vocals, her powers running the forefront of the track. “The Hunger” continues on in a similar way, totally reminiscent of a lost sound. Just like the lost girls that Khan sings about, her music evokes similar childhood nostalgia, and it’s easy to hear the influence behind it. There’s a transparent underpinning of Depeche Mode, Bowie, Madonna, Eurythmics – all the icons she takes great inspiration from, and while it’s wrong to essentialize an artist’s music in this way, it does attest to her versatility. She has a firm awareness of that time, recreating the qualities of its sound almost perfectly. She brings in some contemporary influence as well, subtly hinting at the work of Lana Del Ray and Jorja Smith, yet keeping her imprint void of the commercial.
“Jasmine” is a glorious synthesis, pushing the musical identity of this album to the capacity. Khan establishes every bit of her motive with this track, and in some ways, it feels like the centerpiece of both the record and the story. That being said, there is a kind of deliberation to the sound that feels too systematic, stepping away from the supposed freedom she felt at the start of all this. “Vampires” feels the same – it recalls the rich saxophones of Spandau Ballet and The Waterboys so much so that it becomes more of a recreation than an interpretation. If we wanted to hear the ’80s as it was back then, we would listen to the masters of the genre, because they certainly do it better. Maybe this just completely reiterates and justifies Khan’s intentions – to sound a story and a time, and it will certainly work for the listeners who are attracted to that, but for those who favor new musicality, Lost Girls might not be the remedy.
By the final tracks, her sound starts to wane for the worse. It’s boring, to say the least. “Peachy Sky” plays with some spacy electronics and has a textured production, yet it does little to rejuvenate what’s left of the album. Tracks like “Feel For You” bring back some of the energy, and feel like points of indulgence for Khan, building into fun, instrumental breakdowns. It’s clear that she threw all inhibition to the wind, but the wind is blowing fiercely, and there are moments away from her blissful creativity where it takes more than just inhibition, it takes substance too, leaving only her fictional pre-occupation.
“Mountains” is the tender end to this journey, as her characters finally succumb to the lost girls. It’s a perfect translation of that feeling, something which Kahn has certainly achieved across the record. We have to commend her ambition and the way in which she so gently takes us to a place we never knew existed. Maybe it’s not even a conscious thing, but rather an instinctual part of her process, and if anything, it’s refreshing to see an artist so subtly defy the weight of commercial expectation. However, in the end, the question we are left asking ourselves is less to do with the process and more to do with the result – is the driving narrative behind Kahn’s music an eccentric addition, or is it more isolating than anything else?