- by Kevin Orton Rating:10 Release Date:2019-09-06 Label: AWAL
Having grown up in the 80’s, I’m the last person who’s nostalgic for them. With the advent of Stranger Things, the superficial pop culture goof on them has grown more than a little stale if you ask me. So, when I heard Bat For Lashes’ latest was going to be a mix of 80’s synths and disco beats, I could barely suppress a groan. I hate 80’s synths. And I’ve never been much of a disco fan. All of which may say something about the formidable talents of Natasha Khan. Her new Bat For Lashes’ album, Lost Girls is not only brilliant but beautiful. Easily one of the best albums I’ve heard so far this year. And all this despite the fact that I'm not exactly the demographic for this sort of thing.
‘Kids In The Dark’ kicks off like an OMD or Berlin song. Also, throw in some strong echoes of vintage 80’s Kate Bush. There’s a melancholic lilt to her voice as Khan sings, “It’s such a dark night, I know you’ve been grieving.” “We’re just kids in the dark,” she confesses amidst a haze of synths and staggering beats. Immediately she paints a topsy turvy world where nothing is what it seems.
‘The Hunger’ begins with churning church organ, fat bass lines and a heavenly chorus of voices all belonging to Khan. A dizzying technicolor wash of sounds that could easily belong to a Top Gun soundtrack, sans the dated cheesiness. Perhaps it’s the conviction in Khan’s voice but the 80’s pastiche never falls into self-parody or contrived anachronism. “It’s time to start things over,” she sings in a ghostly lament.
In the hands of Madonna, a song like ‘Feel For You’ might be insipid. But behind the deliberate veil of superficiality, Khan is actually saying something from the heart. As opposed to just being a photogenic businessperson who’s great at marketing. This isn’t marketing. This is music. And musically, one can hear elements of Talking Heads and Brian Eno at play here.
‘Desert Man’ relishes in 80’s synth washes and drum rolls drenched in reverb. Yet melodically, there is a distinct Persian influence. Lyrically, this all about attraction and a relationship that goes nowhere beyond that. “You take me to that nowhere land, pull me in with both your hands, it’s just about all I can do to understand”. It’s the lush sound of letting go of what's dragging you down in the desert of despair.
‘Jasmine’ begins with some spoken word narrative, bubbling synths and more thick bass lines. Sounds common on 80’s Top 40 Pop radio. Sounds I couldn’t stand growing up. Yet in Khan’s hands, it all becomes sirens, luring you in for the kill. Speaking of which, ‘Vampires’ sounds like it could have crept off The Cure’s dark opus, Pornography. All doomy bass and chilly guitars. Then a cheesy 80’s sax enters and escorts you down the song’s dark alleys. Noticeably absent is Khan’s voice. It’s a welcome instrumental diversion with Goth touches. But its all a set up for the swooning grooves of ‘So Good’. The song’s 80’s gimmickry offset by just the right hint of menace. An irresistible chorus of, “Why does it hurt so good? You don’t treat me like you should.” Elsewhere the alluring melody of 'So Good's verses hold dark confessions like, “It’s an addiction I cannot fight” and “he plays the hunter and I play his kill.” Like a lot of songs on here, it's a tune that never gets indulgent or over-stays its welcome. Not only are things well sequenced on this album, the track lengths also hit the sweet spot.
‘Safe Tonight’ is an intoxicating Pop ballad coupled with sentiments such as, “There is a demon in my heart I’m not sure I’ll survive.” And this juxtaposition may explain why Khan pulls off this uber 80’s hat trick so well. She keeps the kitsch factor on a tight leash, never letting it run away with itself. Another factor is Khan’s singing. There’s nothing forced, nothing affected or contrived. Vocally, she sits back and keeps it high and warm.Providing ample contrast with artificial techno aspects of the instrumentation.
‘Peach Sky’ is a gorgeous ballad whose backing can’t help but bring the likes of Ultravox or Alphaville to mind. If you know those bands, you most certainly grew up in the 80’s. But Khan saves the best for last. ‘Mountains’ is a lonely woman alone at the keyboard. With all the busy bells and whistles of what preceded it, this spare number really has an impact. “Sing to me in the dark,” she pleads in a dulcet voice. It’s a simply gorgeous send off to an alluring album.
In case I haven’t made it clear, 80’s Synth Pop ain't my cuppa. When not cloying, I find it annoying. But in Bat For Lashes’ hands, it's not only palatable, it transcends. I'll be surprised if this one isn't on every critic's Best of the Year list. Well, its certainly on mine.