The Long Shadow of Kate Bush

Julianne Escobedo Shepherd | January 26th, 2011

Though not quite as elusive as Sade, the god Kate Bush is something like a unicorn in the music world. Breaks between her albums have felt like eons for megafans — four years between Hounds of Love and the Sensual World, four more ‘til The Red Shoes, and a punishing 12 more before the double album Aerial (2005), during which we wondered if she’d just decided to pack it in. Of those 12 years, she spent nine of them making Aerial. Bless the artist who takes pains and patience. After a press flurry around the record and a couple interviews in which she debunked notions that she was a weirdo recluse because she didn’t show up at star-flecked parties, she returned to silence.

Bush is best known for her wispy fantasy scapes — “Wuthering Heights,” “Running Up That Hill,” “Cloudbusting ” — but as she’s gotten older, she’s refined her gift at unearthing the interlocution between the ordinary and the extraordinary. Aerial’s best track, “Mrs. Bartolozzi,” was a plaintive tale of doing laundry that doubled as a paean to the thankless domesticity of lonely women everywhere. It evoked the conceptual sculpture of Yoko Ono in its simplicity and sadness, and somehow made Bush even more elusive — she’d spent those 12 years raising her young son Bertie, and her tale was told with the profundity of someone who could relate. I’m not of the notion that having a child automatically turns a woman maternal, but Aerial’s meditations on motherhood were practically bleeding uncontainable love — and there’s nothing more ordinary/extraordinary than that. More joy/you bring me/ so much joy/ then you bring me/ more joy, she sang on “Bertie,” a nigh-Catholic devotional that acted, too, as an incantation. This week, the NME reported 2011 will likely see Bush’s first new music in five years. Somebody send her a bouquet of flowers, and let us pray, too, that she continues to invoke the sacred nature of the mundane.

But Kate Bush’s literary/starry-eyed side has not been laid to rest — those early albums impacted countless musicians and still do, from Bjork to her collaborator Antony & the Johnsons to rapper Big Boi, who’s expressed his desire to work with Bush for more than a decade. The latest inheritors of her legacy, it seems, are more bent on reflecting her intense corporeality. I think about this whenever I bump “Mother Protect,” one of the first singles from Swedish band Niki and the Dove, soon to be stateside stars thanks both to an upcoming release on a natty indie label, and to general awesomeness. “Mother Protect”’s stripped down beats and ponderous electronics brood and let vocalist Malin Dahlström’s cracked wail ball out. Dahlström’s got Stevie emotion and Siouxsie swag, but the track’s dreamy modes are all Kate, down to the half-key transposition of the climax and what appears to be a pan flute but is probably just a synthesizer with a rad patch filter. Though it doesn’t feel derivative (and it’s a bananas-great song), it’s encouraging that Bush’s methods of emoting are imprinted on Niki & the Dove’s DNA, and that of her latest legacy-babies — Dahlström, Zola Jesus’ firestarter Nika Danilova, Brooklyn’s Laurel Halo, off the top. Bush taught the art of wringing poetry into a new romanticism that never adhered to the obvious or overwrought, and her wholehearted embrace of womanhood was, and is, empowering. It’s the notion of being unbridled, expressed through impressionistic lyrics and the act of gaining strength through femininity — and it’s a testament to her nuance, depth and fearlessness that it lives on.