Bat for Lashes Mines ’80s Pop, Vampires on Lost Girls
Natasha Khan explores youthful innocence through a Lost Boys-referencing storylineMusic Reviews Bat for Lashes
Devotees of 1980s pop-culture, teen movies, vampires or Coreys Haim and Feldman may recall The Lost Boys, a 1987 flick about two teenage brothers who battle a gang of motorcycle-riding vampires. Bat for Lashes offers her variation on the theme with her fifth LP, Lost Girls, a collection of 10 songs steeped in the sounds of ’80s pop and loosely based around a vampire girl-gang chasing a mortal protagonist in Los Angeles.
The concept stems from a screenplay that Bat for Lashes mastermind Natasha Khan was developing when she moved from London to Los Angeles after her 2016 release, The Bride, itself a concept album exploring the idea of love in the wake of a death. On Lost Girls, the vampire storyline is really more of a lens through which Khan considers youthful innocence and the darker impulses that lurk on its edges—which is in a sense a lost opportunity. Apart from an instrumental track, “Vampire,” Khan is oblique about her subject matter. If you’re going to write an album about skirmishes with vampires, why not embrace it fully?
Opener “Kids in the Dark” leans hard toward youthful innocence as Khan’s protagonist feels the first bloom of love. She yearns for intimacy with none of the inevitable complications, and Khan sings in a murmur that drifts through layers of synthesizers and crisp, spare drums that give the song a sense of wistful, urgent longing. An undercurrent of danger begins building on subsequent tracks, leading into “Jasmine,” a song about a woman “with the hands of a killer, the heart of a little girl.” Khan switches between softly spoken narration on the verse and ethereal melody that sends her voice soaring on the refrain, while burbling synthesizers and drum programming give the song a throwback synth-pop feel that might as well come with an asymmetrical gelled-up hairdo. It’s followed by “Vampires,” and though the track is an instrumental, it’s no less foreboding. Blaring saxophone billows around echoing drums, and effects-treated guitars playing ominous arpeggios intertwine with bright, slashing synthesizer parts.
Recycling ’80s pop tropes is a well-worn path, of course, but Khan mostly uses them to her advantage, repurposing stylized synthesizer tones and electronic-sounding beats in a way that feels like more than merely rummaging around in the past. Such familiar musical touchstones evoke a period that would have been formative for a musician about to turn 40, and conjuring the era of The Lost Boys is certainly appropriate for a coming-of-age story involving vampires, abstract though it is. Sometimes the ’80s homage doesn’t work. “Feel for You” repeats the same seven words over and over, hammered home by a boinging beat and synths that feel like they’re revving in place without ever slipping into gear.
That’s mostly just a quibble, though. As a whole, there’s a loose sort of freedom to Lost Girls, as if Khan was able to summon the atmosphere and mystery that so often suffuse her music without sweating over it as much as usual. Her past work has sounded more rooted in the British Isles than Southern California, but she does the L.A. transplant thing with enough confidence that the presence of bloodthirsty vampire bikers doesn’t even sound like that much of a drawback.