As a fan of music in a wide variety of genres, and despite efforts over time to constantly discover different music, there are artists whose work you completely miss.

Kate Bush is one of them.

I listen to many artists who could credibly claim her as an influence, including St. Vincent, but until recently I was totally ignorant of Kate’s work.

Kate Bush emerged at the end of the 70s and came into her own in the 80s. The production style of her albums reflects this: that 80s gated reverb sound on the drums, the embrace of synthesized keyboard patches, and a theatrical pastiche that I feel isn’t wholeheartedly embraced as often these days.

There’s also a constant undercurrent of dance to her music, which you’ll find reflected in her music videos.

Even just focusing on the vocals, you’ll find Kate runs the gamut of voicings from whispered and screaming, to cutesy, hurt, passionate, subdued, and into traditional 80s ballad. And then more! She is all over the place and often mixes in samples of other voices speaking lines in stereo.

To be honest, on first listen that variety is kind of bewildering and I didn’t like it in every case.

The first Kate Bush song that hooked me was Suspended In Gaffa from 1982’s The Dreaming. It is delightfully ridiculous, yet completely serious, as the speaker ponders a transcendent experience that she cannot seem to access anymore. It remains elusive, and may never be repeated.

The song is full of energy, with interesting changes and melodic bursts and different voicings. The lyrics are provocative and intriguing.

I love this song.1

I was born in the mid-80s and so most of Kate’s music was well before my music listening time, and her success seemed to be centered in the UK more than the US anyway. The only chance for me to have heard her growing up would be if my dad had discovered her.

Growing up, my dad listened a wide variety of female singer-songwriters. In the 90s, Sunday mornings were full of Enya and Sarah Mclachlan and in the 2000s onward we heard Neko Case, Stars, Metric, Mates of State, Feist and many others.

I’m not sure how aware he was of Kate’s music, but part of the reason I think he would have liked her music is she wields this monstrous variety of sounds to create a sort of controlled mess, not totally unlike Brian Wilson in his more amibitious Beach Boys and solo work.

What strikes me most about Kate’s music, as I listen, is that it’s just bursting forth with creative expression. It’s got an infectious joy. I’m not normally inclined to some of the ways she uses her voice, or how she uses keyboard samples (synthesized bagpipes and pitch bending bass anyone?), but in context it matches the sonic palette she has set up, the audio world you’re invited into.

I’ll be spending more time in her oeuvre, hoping to discover more wonderful music.

  1. I discovered that Ra Ra Riot recorded a fantastic cover of Suspended In Gaffa that is worth checking out.