Kate Bush – And Dream of Sheep (Live) (2016)
Kate Bush first released And Dream of Sheep in 1985, when she was 27. Three decades later, she recorded a new version. This was mainly intended for use as a concert film – live visuals to accompany Bush's shows in 2014. The singer dressed up like the character in the song (a woman in a life vest, lost at sea), and lowered herself into a tank of water at England's Pinewood movie studios. Cameras rolled. She sang the song. She sang the song again. At one point shooting had to be put on hold – Bush had contracted a mild case of hypothermia. They resumed 24 hours later.
The Pinewood version of And Dream of Sheep was indeed projected at those 2014 concerts. But someone – presumably Bush – recognized that something special had taken place in that frigid fake ocean. It was more than the visuals, which show the shipwrecked singer and her tiny rescue beacon.
Bush's semi-hypothermic vocal performance was a rarer, colder treasure. It has now been released as a single.
And Dream of Sheep was and is a piano ballad, slow as ice-flow. Bush sings the song of a castaway – waiting, floating. "Let me be weak, let me sleep … I'll wake up to any sound of engines," she promises.
There are the sounds of gulls and lapping water and, in the track's late moments, one of my favourite sonic touches in all of pop music – strange, gentle sea-whistles. Yet what transforms this new rendition, once you notice it, is the cold. Here, Bush is not a 27-year-old in a cozy recording studio. She's 50-something and shivering, dreaming of rescue, possibly in need of medical attention. Alive in the moment she's imagining, vividly translating that inner world into ours.
EASYFUN ft Noonie Bao – Monopoly (2016)
Followers of this column will know my fondness for a certain flavour of shiny, 100-per-cent synthetic pop music. British label PC Music is among its finest contemporary purveyors, marrying the sound of nineties dance-pop with elements of playful, glitchy EDM. Monopoly represents one of their two best releases this year (Hannah Diamond's Fade Away is the other). It's also an exculpation of one of the label's least promising acts. The anonymous producer(s) called EASYFUN had previously exhibited a weakness for blunt, monotonous rave music. On Monopoly they go all-in with melody, working with the Swedish singer Noonie Bao. Her vocal line is wistful and pretty, almost Robyn-like – it's a very human foil for EASYFUN's shards of electronic glitter. The result is joyous, adamant, light as zinc.
Sean Michaels received the 2014 Scotiabank Giller Prize for his novel Us Conductors. He is the editor of the music blog Said the Gramophone.