Some musicians take so long between albums that they lose track of their own careers and start issuing periodic annotated census reports when simple yearly newsletters would do. Then there's Kate Bush, whose new Aerial comes after what turns out to have been a welcome 12-year absence. Bush has followed her own trilling muse since her 1978 debut, and aside from some minor cosmetic and thematic differences, each of her records has offered a similar blend of prog, folk, and new wave. By the time Bush released 1993's unfocused The Red Shoes, her routine had grown stale, and though Aerial doesn't change that routine significantly, the record still sounds fresh, because it doesn't follow a decade full of cookie-cutter albums.

Aerial's two discs of nocturnes, folktales, and sensual dance tracks have been sorted into sections. The first disc, "A Sea Of Honey," is more character-driven, with songs about a sad Elvis ("King Of The Mountain"), a happy-making child ("Bertie"), and the courage of Joan Of Arc ("Joanni"). Bush tries out a variety of styles on the first disc, from Renaissance balladry to trance-y rock, but she's at her eccentric best when she sits alone at the piano and sings "Mrs. Bartolozzi," about a load of laundry that inspires an erotic reverie. (Perhaps only Bush could imbue a line like "slooshy sloshy slooshy sloshy / get that dirty shirty clean" with deep emotion.)

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The second disc, "A Sky Of Honey," is more about tone than tunes, though it does tell a unified story of a kind, about the passing of a single day in an oceanside artists' colony. Bush builds the songs around stunted piano runs, crafting melodies that hover and pace without ever going anywhere. Where "A Sea Of Honey" is really just a handful of new Kate Bush songs, "A Sky Of Honey" is a fully realized mood piece, designed to lift listeners out of their own heads. It's a stirring return to that special place behind the eyes of Kate Bush, where every raindrop contains universes within universes.