The English indie-pop auteur's fifth studio album is another concept record, a nostalgic-synth horror film soundtrack more opaque and abstract than its predecessor.
An organ announces the opening of "The Hunger" with an austere, foreboding moan—before the drums kick in and invite you to dance.
That contrast, between the track's inherent dread and its pop veins, is the first sign that Lost Girls, the fifth offering from English artist Bat for Lashes, isn't meant for the faint of heart. "The Hunger," the album's second track, sounds like a cut from a John Hughes horror movie. Lost Girls is a concept album, which is Natasha Khan's specialty. It tells a story about love and power and the ways they intersect. The songwriting plays with metaphors of desire, addiction, and even murder and vampirism, but it's the album's artpop-horror production that gives the album its life. The choice to marry '80s-synth nostalgia to dark bass and palatial soundscaping is deliberate and effective: It turns Lost Girls into a metaphor about how love's comfort can come at an unforgiving price.
Bat for Lashes - The Hunger (Official Video) www.youtube.com
This level of conceptual craft, and the specific focus on love, is nothing new for Khan. Her last record, 2016's The Bride, unfolded a tragedy with a similar melding of the uncanny and the familiar. The record told the story of a woman who grieved the untimely death of the man she never married. Poring over Lost Girls' lyrics, as well as the mysterious Instagram videos Khan posted leading up to the album's release, reveals a narrative: A young woman, Nikki Pink, falls in love amidst a fantasy Los Angeles, while an encroaching girl-gang of possible vampires lurks in the background.
But Lost Girls is far more opaque than The Bride, which was a more straightforward exploration of love's toll. As Khan said herself in an interview: "[T]here are a lot of songs where I'm not trying to be arty, I'm not trying to make it deep and multi-layered." "Feel For You" and "Peach Sky" do the story-telling most acutely; they're windswept love songs with an ethereal electronica holding them down. "Vampires," the one track pointing most directly at the album's concept, is a purely instrumental track, sounding like a Smiths song that somehow got its hands on a saxophone during a desert vision quest.
It's the more revealing songs, though, that give Lost Girls its most dramatic beats. "Jasmine," a mostly spoken-word track about a femme fatale character hunting and murdering wayward men in the Hollywood Hills, is deliciously campy in its horror, its creepiness charged by Khan's lascivious vocals. And it's that sense of contrast between yearning lyricism and heady horror sounds that Lost Girls ends up featuring. "Kids in The Dark" is a sweet ode to love opening up parts of you that you thought long-dormant, while "Desert Man" is bordering on exhaustion with romance: "It's hard to get high with you / and not go low."
"So Good" and "Safe Tonight" are nicely paired to capture the dark and light sides of infatuation. "Safe Tonight" is about a gentle, healing love, a stark juxtaposition following "So Good," on which Nikki Pink struggles with the ways she's intoxicated by an abusive lover. The album's closer, "Mountains," grounds the album with a hymn to fears of abandonment, as it captures how the end of love can render entire landscapes unfamiliar.
Lost Girls doesn't reach the story-telling heights of its predecessor, but it's still an experimental portrayal of the ways love can take up space in one's life as both a gift and a trap. The horror angle, in an odd way, ends up being the safest way for Bat for Lashes to plumb those depths, in the way good horror films do: exploring familiar, painful humanity through the lens of an unfamiliar fear.
"Better late than never" may not apply in this case...
On Saturday, in a strange celebration of Independence Day, rapper, producer, and sneaker mogul Kanye West announced his intention to run for president in 2020.
As in, this year. Right now.
Of course, this news comes well past the filing deadline for independent candidates in several major states—which means that unless a political party randomly decides to nominate him, Kanye's name won't appear on those ballots. As deadlines in other states approach—with little apparent effort to gather the petition signatures required—Kanye is officially joining the long, proud history of vanity presidential campaigns. Unfortunately, that's a lot more dangerous than it sounds.
We must now realize the promise of America by trusting God, unifying our vision and building our future. I am runni… https://t.co/MySzN3vjIB— ye (@ye)1593909493.0
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Every year, there are more than 100 songs that are worthy of being included in a Top 100 Songs of the Year pop list, but once you get through all the songs you have to include from all of your major stars—your Taylor Swifts, your Rihannas, your Carly Rae Jepsen and Owl Citys—100 just isn't as big a number as it seems like it should be. Therefore, there are always a handful of artists and songs that get unjustly snubbed in a Top 100 list.
Here's a playlist of ten awesome songs we just couldn't find the room for this year. Sorry guys—it wasn't you, it was us.
DANNY BROWN, "GROWN UP"
A short, sweet look back from one of hip-hop's greatest characters of recent years on his truant younger days, reflecting on how things turned out way better for him than anyone could have imagined (concluding on the song's hook, "Who ever thought I'd be the greatest growing up?" One of the year's most adorable music videos helped this one seem even more charming.
BRAD PAISLEY, "SOUTHERN COMFORT ZONE"
NASCAR broadcast and Jeff Foxworthy samples kick off Brad Paisley's epic ode to his land below the Mason-Dixon line, which both pays tribute to the region's many virtues and (duh) comforts, but also acknowledges that Paisley "can't see this world unless I go / Outside my southern comfort zone." (Though he qualifies that by saying "I know the road I leave on / It will always bring me back." At over five minutes in length, and encompassing gospel choirs and guitar solos and a steadily crescendoing emotional swell, "Zone" is one of the most ambitious country songs of recent years, and also one of the most satisfying.
BAT FOR LASHES, "LAURA"
The lead single and theatrical centerpiece of Natasha Khan's (a.k.a. Bat for Lashes) acclaimed The Haunted Man, "Laura" is an absolute showstopper, with dolorous piano and strings providing the appropriately dramatic backdrop as Khan wails "You're the train that crashed my heart / You're the glitter in the dark / Oooh Laura / You're more than a superstar!" Is it about Laura Palmer, murdered vixen from '90s TV show Twin Peaks, as theorized by some? Doesn't really matter all that much.
FUTURE FEAT. DIDDY & LUDACRIS, "SAME DAMN TIME" (REMIX)
How 'bout Future? How 'bout Diddy? AT THE SAME DAMN TIME! Future already had one of the hip-hop hooks of the decade with his "Same Damn Time" single, but the Diddy-and-Ludacris-featuring remix—always a good idea, by the way, even for the latest Train or Karmin single—just takes it to the next level. "See sometimes in life, these motherfuckers take your kindness for weakness," Diddy rhapsodizes on the intro. "So sometimes in life, you just gotta blow their motherfuckin' faces off." Too true, Sean.
PORTER ROBINSON, "LANGUAGE"
One of EDM's most talented wunderkinds—they just make 'em younger and younger these days, don't they?—20-year-old Porter Robinson crafted one of house's great opuses this year with "Language," with gloriously contrasting layers of synth and piano hooks making the vocal that eventually comes in halfway thorugh the song's six-minute runtime totally superfluous. Look out for this guy in 2013.
For more jams that just missed our Top 100, including Kirko Bangz and the best new song from a TV show this year, click NEXT.
POOLSIDE, "SLOW DOWN"
As intense and uplfiting as "Language" is, that's about how laid back and chill-inducing Poolside's "Slow Down" is. The song's sparse lyrics are very explicit towards this message—"Slow / Don't move so fast / Slow down / Let this feeling last / Relax..."—but you don't even need the lyrics to tell you that, the song's synths and screwed-down beat are so fucking tranquil. "Slow Down" the audio equivalent of one of those dumb Corona commercials—no matter where you are or what you're doing, you're unwinding at the beach (or pool, we suppose) whenever listening.
ELLE VARNER, "REFILL"
One of the year's most indelible and singular R&B singles, largely thanks to the presence of an extremely unconventional instrument providing the song's main hook—is that actually a fiddle buzzing away on Elle's slow jam? Against all odds, it works beautifully, helped by Elle's ecstatic, loved-up vocal, and a predictably excellent, lush beat from the underrated Andrew "Pop" Wansel. Perhaps 2013 will be the year of the Hot 97 Hoedown? We're excited.
CONNIE BRITTON & HAYDEN PANETTIERE, "WRONG SONG"
The music on Nashville has been generally up and down between convincing would-be country hits and obvious fictional creations missing a crucial element or two for legit 21st-century mainstream country, but best of all was the first duet between the series' two stars, Rayna James (Connie Britton) and Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere), the kiss-off anthem "Wrong Song." Somewhat ironically, Panettiere (who plays the show's ambitious-but-unproven up-and-comer) far outperforms Britton (the show's established elder statesman), but the song is good enough to carry both artists, a believably clever and exhilarating tune assuring a cheating ex that if he's expecting the two to sing a "Stand By Your Man" type ode, "you've got the wrong song."
KIRKO BANGZ, "DRANK IN MY CUP"
An appropriately woozy, hypnotic jam given the subject matter, Kirko Bangz already seems to be something of an afterthought in the hip-hop community, but "Drank" will always guarantee him a place in the hearts of 2010s hip-hop fans, with one of the year's most enjoyable stoner jams. "I ain't trying to love you, baby, just fuck you instead." Honestly always appreciated, Kirko.
WALK THE MOON, "ANNA SUN"
If you wanted to bet on a pop/rock group to break out in the Neon Trees or fun. style over the next few years, Walk the Moon would probably be a good value, with an enormous sound, an impressively refined pop sensibility, and perhaps most importantly, the backing of a major label in RCA. "Anna Sun" shows how close they already are, with one of the year's most rousing choruses: "Do you know this house is falling apart / Can I say this house is falling apart / We got no money but we got a heart / We're gonna rattle this ghost town!" They'll be used a lot on whatever MTV's next I Just Want My Pants Back-type attempt at original programming is, anyway.
Got another couple songs you were angry were excluded from our Top 100? Think "Same Damn Time" should've been top 20, minimum? Tell us about it in the comments section.