Natasha Khan, one of the best songwriters working today, released an album with incredible songs that don't fully produce a complete image. Khan poses a fascinating question of how someone outside of a specific culture can utilize similar materials to challenge the dominant assumptions of that culture. For me, this album finds Khan's typical Kate Bush theatrics blending with a sincere homage to John Carpenter films of the 1980s. Carpenter is a master at producing terror through crashing synths, or he can heighten the urgency of an action movie with bombastic electronic orchestrations. His movie soundtracks function just as powerfully outside of their source material. Big Trouble in Little China is a problematic movie, but damn does that soundtrack slap. Carpenter can expertly create emotional synth landscapes that help produce anxiety in his audience.
I see Khan thinking about synths in a similar way. Instead of building to horror or turmoil, Khan draws out Carpenter's implicit grooves and sense of wonder. These are landscapes of emotion mediated through jittery synths and drum machines. This may be the most obvious in 'Feel For You,' a song that is just a vibe. At other times, Khan uses the synths to add a spiritual urgency to her music. You can imagine getting caught in a spiritual meditation on 'Desert Man,' one of my favorites on the album. The synths only bolster the sense of mysticism behind Khan's voice. It is incredible to hear Khan get so much out her synthesized atmospheres; every song is exciting and stunning in its own right.
So what is not working? It's not that Khan has compromised her style. On her previous records, Khan punctures mythic narratives with everyday feelings, conflating the mystical with the mundane. Khan continues to think about that mythical space on songs like 'The Hunger.' Caught between a desire to live forever and the eroticism of the moment, Khan finds power in the image of the vampire as someone who defies time. There are also classic Bat for Lashes elements, like the spoken word banger, 'Jasmine.' (This remains the best song, the lyric 'legs for days and bones of pearl' is a next-level ridiculous Natasha Khan moment and I love it.) All of these elements should add together for a knock-out of an album.
What's missing for me is the translation to something greater. The Bride was Khan thinking about a contemporary mythic figure (the virgin bride) and reconsidering that character's narrative to fantastic results. I feel like she is best when she is producing sonic portraits of herself or others. Something about Lost Girls doesn't feel transformative. These songs, while all wonderful, are kind of boring in sequence. They don't build to the same nuanced levels as her other work. I am waiting for a flip, a moment when the synth sheen would be replaced with something new or transcendent. The fact that doesn't occur isn't wrong, but it does make the album a little homogenous and surprisingly forgettable.
Every song on this record still moves me. 'So Good,' 'Peach Sky,' and 'Safe Tonight' are all fantastic. The fact that I got Cowboy Bebop vibes from the bari sax on 'Vampires' is a good thing! What's a little disappointing is that this album had the same impact on shuffle as it did in the intentional order. This isn't bad, but from an artist that has released four narratively rich records, it feels slightly inconsequential. I will continue to enjoy the music and love Bat for Lashes' stunning voice. I can appreciate the work on this record, while also wanting so much more.