Ever since she came onto the scene with 2006’s Fur and Gold, Natasha Khan—better known as Bat for Lashes—has been one of today’s most exceptional singer-songwriters. Although she channels elements of Kate Bush, Sufjan Stevens, Joni Mitchell, Tori Amos, and Billy Joel, Khan very much possesses her own distinctive aesthetic. Over time, however, she’s sacrificed some of her greatest assets (organically full-bodied arrangements, soul-crushing songwriting, and wonderfully inventive production) for more ambient and electronic compositions that appeal on a more superficial and common level.
Sadly, her fifth full-length effort, Lost Girls, is the full realization of that transformation. A slightly above average album on its own, its decidedly retro template—1980s synthpop—makes it immensely accessible but significantly less individualized, memorable, and emotionally piercing. Some of her cherished traits are scattered around, of course, but they’re too few and far between, resulting in a considerably generic and unsubstantial listening experience. There’s very little of the spark that makes her best work—like “Moon and Moon“, likely one of the most unassumingly gorgeous and heartrending songs you’ll ever hear—so outstanding.
Touching upon subjects like Los Angeles, love, impactful cinema, and growing up in the 1980s, Lost Girls—according to the press release—is an “off-kilter coming of age film in which… a powerful female energy casts spells and leave clues for us to follow”. While her prowess as an adventurously poignant and vulnerable lyricist and vocalist is largely intact, it only carries her so far in the face of a dishearteningly average and dated approach. Even 2016’s The Bride did a much stronger job of implementing a deeply resonant and idiosyncratic DNA beneath its relatively glitzy and minimalist outlines.
That’s not to say that the album is a complete letdown, as some of Khan’s superior artistry remains. For instance, she sounds as angelic and empowered as ever on the beautifully nuanced and compelling “The Hunger”. Whereas “Desert Man” tackles “the push and pull of burgeoning romance” with mesmerizing percussion and harmonies, as well as yearning melodies and blissful soundscapes. Likely the most commendably atypical one is “Vampires”, a neon-esque instrumental whose seductive saxophones and sparkling keyboards makes the most of Lost Girls‘ commitment to a vintage persona. The penultimate “Peach Sky” ventures into classic Bat for Lashes weirdness via reversed singing and dissonant timbres. Closer “Mountains” hones in on her paramount strength: the ability to captivate and devastate with only her voice and sparse instrumentation.
Elsewhere, though, the LP leaves much to be desired from someone so typically remarkable. Opener “Kids in the Dark” is okay as a soft and slow synth ballad, but it’s not especially interesting or striving. Rather, it comes off as a blasé reimagining of the vastly greater “Pearl’s Dream”. Later, the one-two punch of “So Good” and “Safe Tonight” offer little more than the quick and easy electropop tunes that filled 1980s clubs. The worst offender is the empty and repetitious “Feel for You”, a danceable track whose shallowness makes it instantly grating. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that type of music; every style has its time and place. But because Bat for Lashes has always aimed for something more, her devolution here is disappointing.
Lost Girls is surely Bat for Lashes’ weakest outing, as its trendy emphasis on recalling the surface-level sheen of 1980s pop music commonly produces throwaway results. In contrast to her previous efforts—whose dense peculiarities and poeticisms rewarded deep listening—this one is too run-of-the-mill and inconsequential. For the most part, it sounds like something countless other artists could’ve made, which is the antithesis of everything that made its predecessors so special.