Tag Archives: kate bush

Bat For Lashes — The Haunted Man

“I could probably fill this entire space just writing about ‘Glass’, the album’s aggressively propulsive opener, and about how its strange mix of elements (chamber pop, prog metal, new age—what?) magically coalesced into some entirely new genre that I wish existed and yet still can’t quite wrap my brain around.” So wrote Mark Pytlik, reviewing Bat For Lashes’ 2009 sophomore, Two Suns.

Well, notch up another victory, Miss Khan, because the opening song on its follow-up is no less deserving of column inches. True, she’s reined in the melting-pot of genres, a little, on “Lilies”, the listener’s gateway drug into the intoxicating world of The Haunted Man. But that just leaves this reviewer wanting to spend more time writing about all the other layers of this strange and beautiful song. There’s the buzzing, gut-churning bass synth which anchors the choruses. There’s Khan’s voice, fragile and expressive and almost cracking under the strain. There’s the gloriously lilting orchestral arrangement, whose efflorescence is all-too brief. And the lyrics, which showcase the greater maturity she has located in describing—away from a fantasy playroom and a grimy future-city—the natural world and her place therein. Continue reading Bat For Lashes — The Haunted Man

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Fifty words for breathtaking

There’s a wonderful moment on “Lake Tahoe” (see above), from Kate Bush‘s 2011 album 50 Words For Snow, when she lifts her fingers from the piano for a moment, sighs exquisitely, then carries on with the plaintive chords that flesh out the song. Forget the tumbling, rumbling timpani, the fragments of lilting flute, the occasional orchestral draws—that’s the moment you realise this album was constructed in a real studio, in real time, with real and unmistakeable instruments.

Through the 1980s, Bush pioneered the use of the Fairlight CMI, an early digital sampling synthesizer which fleshed out the experimental compositions on albums like 1985’s Hounds Of Love. For some artists, the studio becomes their instrument; for Bush, it was the Fairlight. But at the same time, she never let go of her most powerful two tools: her piano, and her voice. Those were the tools that underpinned “The Ninth Wave”, the powerful and career-defining suite that forms the second side of Hounds Of Love.

On her ‘comeback’ album, Aerial, released in 2005 after a twelve-year hiatus, Bush hid her piano pretty well, even as she penned songs that were alternately wittier or more mature than before. That might have been the album’s undoing: the music behind these lengthy ruminations was sophisticated, but drifted towards the forgettable. Tastefully dry crunches of electric guitar; smoothed-out drums; a pace that never rises beyond the incidental. The industry forgave her; she had evolved into a sacred cow.

If Aerial stripped back the artifice of her supposed mythology to reveal the joy she took from mundanity (raising her son Bertie, doing the laundry, worshipping Elvis in the supermarket aisle), then 50 Words For Snow is the album which strips back musically. Never has Bush sounded so naked. That’s not to say the music isn’t complex, however. The way the piano weaves and wends its way around the two voices—those of Kate and Bertie)—in the opener “Snowflake” is rich in subtext. Between the cracks seep organic wafts of electronic resonance; the elder Bush sets the scene; the younger takes on the role of the titular snowflake, on its patient and meandering descent to earth. The next two tracks complete a trio of piano-led numbers thirty-five minutes in length; at its pinnacle is “Misty”, an adult-oriented retelling of Raymond Briggs’s The Snowman. The narrator falls for a snowman; she invites him back in; he melts at her touch. The morning after, soaking sheets are the only trace of their tryst. It’s a haunting tale, and it’s told in such a way that any obvious innuendo is avoided.

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Hounds Of Love had a second side consisting of a piano-centred suite; 50 Words For Snow front-loads its wintry equivalent. Its back half is musically more varied: “Wild Man” takes an Irish folk jig on an expedition in the Himalayas, on the hunt for the Yeti, while “Snowed In At Wheeler Street”, a duet with Elton John (!), unfolds over eerily filtered synthesizer pulses. The title track, meanwhile, is lyrically witty but sonically evokes the 1990s paranoia of Massive Attack, with brushed drumming and penetrating, lurking bass-work. The closer, “Among Angels”, is a barely-there performance for piano and ethereal strings. As the song peters out delicately, Bush sings, “There’s someone who’s loved you forever but you don’t know it / You might feel it and just now show it”, beautifully summarising the translucent, watchful and protecting gaze heavenly bodies seem to hold over this album.

It would be tempting to think of 50 Words For Snow as a seasonal gimmick—she has form, after all, having released a Christmas single in 1980, “December Will Be Magic Again“—but to do so having actually listened to this work would be criminal. The timing might have been fitting, but the songs themselves, and the way they fit together into an uneasy, creeping mood, is timeless. If this is the start of an Indian summer for Bush, I don’t care that it started in the depths of winter.


50 Words For Snow by Kate Bush was released in November 2011, on Fish People.

L’Empire des fauves

Wild Beasts — Shepherd’s Bush Empire — 23rd November 2011

Can you tell a lot about a band from the fans who show up at their concerts? For a Northern quartet who recently upped sticks for Trendsville, Dalston, and whose stock is on the up even as they trade in lithe funk for pastoral art rock, Wild Beasts‘ assembled crowd pretty much fits the bill. Young, well-dressed professionals interspersed with the occasional gaggle of lairy, not-quite-scary freshers. Yours truly, straight from the office of a third-sector organisation; two pints swiftly imbibed during the forgettable opening  set from Braids. Snuggling couples lingering behind the bar, all-too aware of the lush romanticism at the heart of Wild Beasts’ recent offerings.

The band begin on an uncharacteristically sprightly note, all thought of Kate Bush and Talk Talk shoved temporarily to one side for the jaunty, swooping “Bed of Nails”. “O! Ophelia! I feel yer fall,” moan the sparring frontmen Hayden Thorpe and Tom Fleming—the Hamlet reference surely isn’t lost on such a hyper-literate crowd. The former deals in a seductive falsetto (halfway between Antony Hegarty and Kate Bush) while the latter shows off his bluff, Northern baritone (like a more sultry Guy Garvey). Against such distinctive vocalists whirr shadowy keys and delicately textured guitar-work. And, always, Chris Talbot’s intricate, polyrhythmic sticksmanship, colouring in the gaps with deft bongo fills.

From there, the set takes a more sensual turn, with a decent mix of new and older materials. The high drama of “We Still Got The Taste Dancin’ On Our Tongues” is followed by the sparse, sub-bass-heavy “Albatross”, for which the frontmen face each other across hefty banks of keyboards, like lovers squaring up for a fight. Respite from the relentlessly pattering rhythms comes courtesy of the post-rock suite “Two Dancers”, its two constituent parts reversed in order and shuffled around. We’re also treated to the otherworldly “Loop The Loop” and the gentle, wafting “Deeper” (both from the recent album Smother), with its muted plucking and pinging synths. Even here, they can’t resist their love of earthier stuff, with cavernous bass tones lurking around the song’s middle section.

When the band gets round to playing the hits from their previous album, Two Dancers, the crowd raise their game. In a live setting, you kinda forget the gritty homoeroticism of “Hooting And Howling” and “All The King’s Men”, and end up bouncing along innocently enough to this scrunchy, steely brand of pop.

Then, in the encore, they plumb new depths, with every ounce of disco-noire potential extracted from “Lion’s Share” and distilled into a heady, intoxicating concoction. The bottomless bass pulses combine exquisitely with Thorpe’s plaintive piano and the additional thump of touring helper Katie Harkin on floor tom. As a final hurrah, we get the epic “End Come Too Soon”, that paen to all things premature, whose rousing first section soon tumbles into a rising fog of quasi-ambient noise, simultaneously recalling Oneohtrix Point Never and My Bloody Valentine. As this wall of sound approaches the unbearable, the band return to the stage, bringing back the original melody for a colossal and richly-deserved finale.

There is nothing earth-shattering about this performance; nothing to place it in my pantheon of live music. But it is a glorious display of a group at what seems like the peak of their prowess. On the basis of it, I hope their artistry continues to grow—even more bass! even more ambience!—pari passu with their popular appeal. There’s something extremely wholesome to finding unpretentious lads making pretentious-in-a-good way music, imbued with emotive storytelling and a very particular aesthetic. Do catch them before they end up in a concrete corporate arena-cum-shed.

Ambience, Beasts, Bush

Isn’t it great, or at least interesting, when people not really interested in guitar-based music make loosely guitar-based music? The Cumbrian foursome Wild Beasts now make delicate, pattering art rock, under which trickle gurgling, questioning electronics seemingly informed by Oneohtrix Point Never, Caribou and Emeralds. And, when they play London’s Shepherd’s Bush Empire this Wednesday, both the opening acts will be experimental, firmly electronic—Norfolk’s Luke Abbott and the droning Braids.

Consider the final three songs on Wild Beasts’ most recent album, Smother. “Reach A Bit Further” lopes along simple, repeatable plucked chords but, halfway through, these are supplemented by lingering synthesised chimes and vibraphones which ultimately engulf the track. “Burning” (see above) is even stranger, with salvaged miscellany fashioned into Oriental reeds and reversed-prepared-piano. As the composition builds, massed wailing voices threaten the prettiness, as do gloaming synth pads and Tom Fleming’s forlorn baritone. Finally, there is “End Come Too Soon”, which begins canonically enough but soon drops out into an ambient, drifting passage. When the song, proper, cuts back in, it harnesses the playful experimentation and spurs it on into the anthemic.

This week sees the release of a new Kate Bush album, 50 Words For Snow. Bush is often seen as a reference point for Wild Beasts: both acts are blessed with easily identifiable lead voices, a passion for the pastoral, and also a similar aesthetic in their arrangements. And, according to Joe Kennedy of the Quietus, other contemporary records evoking a similar mood to the Bush album are from as experimental a stable as the acts I mention in relation to Wild Beasts: Burial’s Burial, and Plastikman’s Consumed. The circle, it would seem, has been completed.

Wild Beasts — Smother

Where they previously rollicked in bacchanalian throes of ecstasy, Wild Beasts now smoulder in the snow, outside a cottage, and ruminate on the complexities of sexuality. On Smother, their third album, they withdraw even further from the boisterous carnality of their debut, Limbo, Panto, and make the steely funk of Two Dancers seem upbeat by comparison. Now they sound less certain of their sex appeal, even as they mentally undress fine young fillies on the heath.

The Kendal four piece’s familiar elements remain, but everything is dialed back, the melodies simplified, the tempos brought down to a slithering crawl, like a Cumbrian Fever Ray. Chris Talbot still reaches instinctively for bongos and rototoms on the off-beat, but now he only feels the need to caress them gently. Toning down the post-rock washes he used to colour in the gaps on Two Dancers, guitarist Ben Little instead works with cleaner tones, and he often just takes a backseat to the album’s more prominent keyboards. Continue reading Wild Beasts — Smother