Bat For Lashes’ previous album, The Bride, wasn’t exactly a crowd-pleaser: a slow, deadly serious collection of songs about a woman whose husband-to-be dies on her wedding day. While I argued at the time (and still do) that it was an emotionally powerful and worthwhile record that took some audaciousness to release, it was easy to see why many found it unengaging. It’s also easy to see why she chose a more accessible direction on her new album, Lost Girls, which feels like a much-deserved vacation after such heavy material. It’s a shimmering, upbeat pop album that sounds like a love letter to the 80s music and cinema she grew up with.
If you’re like me, the last part raises some eyebrows, since we’re currently at peak “have you heard of this thing called the 80s” culture from Stranger Things and a gaggle of artists embracing that synth pop sound. And like it was hard to argue with The Bride being too slow and difficult, it’s also hard to take issue with anyone who is turned off by the nostalgia and references at play here. But I think it works on this album because Bat for Lashes is referencing a past she actually experienced, and I sense a genuine appreciation for the material she’s referencing instead of it being a cynical nostalgia-grab or put-on. Her whole career proves this in a way, because she was working with these sounds and reference points years ago before it became a cool thing to do. Lost Girls feels more like her coming full circle than her jumping on the bandwagon of 80s mythologizing.
What also helps Lost Girls become more than the sum of its nostalgic parts is that, well, the songs are great. Similar to some other pop acts I’ve appreciated in recent years like Kristin Kontrol and Carly Rae Jepsen, this album has a charming “I’m just here to write memorable pop songs” energy coming from an artist with a deep knowledge of the craft. The first five tracks on this album could all be classified as “jams” (good songs), starting with the lush “Kids in the Dark,” which introduces the album’s themes of young love that are further established on “The Hunger,” which has a similar slow-burn style with an organ added to the mix. “Feel For You” feels almost like a conscious attempt to see how simple she can make a song with it still being good — it’s just a recurring synth part and the lyric “I love you; I feel for you” over and over, yet it doesn’t feel underwritten to me in any way. The sparkling “Desert Man” and the whispery, seductive “Jasmine” close out this opening salvo of tracks, all of which prove that Bat For Lashes can still write catchy, listenable pop — she just didn’t feel like doing it on The Bride.
The instrumental “Vampires” segues into the final few tracks, most of which are slower ballads that are in the conventional Bat For Lashes style (meaning slow and beautiful). While this album lacks the emotional punch of The Bride, it’s a useful companion for showing another side of her artistry, and it’s satisfying to hear an album that doesn’t overreach. Without having some grand contrived narrative, Lost Girls still creates its own world that evokes feelings of youthful innocence and imagination.