Hail Kate, full of grace, these ladies are with thee. Blessed art Björk among singer-songwriters and blessed is the fruit of thy "Homogenic." Ah-women.
So the prayer might go for Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine, Marina Diamandis of Marina and the Diamonds, and Héloïse Letissier of Christine and the Queens, because the three have more in common than their similar band names. These are the spiritual daughters of Kate Bush and Björk, surfing their own unpredictable waves of eccentric art rock/pop, in the wake of boldly original, feminine forbearers who never shrank from potentially cheesy dance moves or crackling ice samples. This week in the Bay Area, catch, but don't bottle, the three upstarts' quicksilver brilliance.
What do they share? The first, best adjective for these ladies' every move is "ambitious." Their grip on the wild horses of melody is serenely authoritative, their beats frisky, their vocals gusty and oft lusty. Too cool for the Eurovision school, they've got their vision goggles in place and all write their own songs. Their penchant for passionate displays is matched only by their knack for movement and performance -- snap, go the Danskins, Kate. Their command of the club floor has the potential to twirl Björk's knobs.
Judging from these first-name-basis lasses' latest music, there's a songwriter begat by Kate Bush and Björk for every occasion. And you will know them by this handy identification guide...
The Lush Romantic: Florence and the Machine
New Album: How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful (Island)
Who's Florence?: Florence Welch
What's the Machine?: It's a joking nickname for longtime collaborator Isabella Summers -- the Machine to Welch's Robot.
Characteristics: Florence Welch's pre-Raphaelite profile and flurry of red tresses, flung with drama-class, high-ginger abandon.
Habitat: The MTV Video Music Awards 2010, where Flo and the Mach first dropped a swirl of romantic chiffon on mainstream TV audiences. Vogue. A clamshell on the 2012 Chanel runway, where Welch was cast a singing pearl by Karl Lagerfeld. Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds' wedding, for which Welch performed. This spring's Coachella, where Welch broke her foot. This year's Glastonbury Festival as the first female-fronted headliner since 1999, according to The Guardian.
Sound: Florence and the Machine's opulent art-rock got bigger, deeper, and more lavishly detailed with How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful. Is it a concept LP about LA witchcraft circles, as Welch hinted to NME this summer? Certainly the title track nudges that notion with lyrics like "Between a crucifix and the Hollywood sign, we decided to get hurt / Now there's a few things we have to burn," and bonus demo track "Which Witch." All allude to womanly power and usher in Biblical, saintly and mythological female icons (the gospel-tinged "Delilah," "St. Jude").
How Bush/Björk are we talking?: Well, a writer for MTV Style confessed in 2012, "if there's anyone who's a human unicorn besides Björk, it would be [Welch]." Welch also sought out producer Markus Dravs, who helmed Björk's Homogenic, because it was such an important recording in her development. Welch's inspired, rock-operatic "Odyssey" videos for How Big’s "What Kind of Man," "Ship to Wreck," "St. Jude," "Queen of Peace," and "Long & Lost" would also make the capering, miming "Wuthering Heights"-era Kate Bush proud.
The Disco Dark Horse: Marina and the Diamonds
New Album: Froot (Atlantic)
Who's Marina?: Marina Diamandis
Who are the Diamonds?: The Welsh singer-songwriter is having a little pun fun with her Greek father's name.
Characteristics: Style reinvention is the name of the image game for Diamandis, who has gone from brunette to bubblegum pop-tart blond to dark-haired vixen once again. She also can't resist a cute costume -- whether it's "vintage, cheerleader, cartoon," she told The Walk.
Habitat: Wales and Greece, where Diamandis has lived, and a window display for Selfridges in London, which she designed and populated herself as a live mannequin.
Sound: "Froot" sees Diamandis dominating the dance floor and skillfully wielding synthpop hooks, all on her own: she wrote all the songs and co-produced with David Kosten, rather than pulling a standard pop move and bringing in a cadre of producers and songwriters. The result echoes with inspirations ranging from David Bowie ("Gold") to Rihanna ("Weeds"), though shockingly infectious tracks like "I'm a Ruin" and "Better Than That" sound distinctively original -- and like well-polished Top 40.
How Bush/Björk are we talking?: Proudly describing herself as feminist, Diamandis owns up to loving Kate Bush and outsider songwriting savant Daniel Johnston as well as Britney Spears and Annie. Her Bush-like video for "I'm a Ruin," which finds her contorting on a barren plain, does nothing to dispel her potential as a chart-topping weirdnik. She'd also likely don Björk's swan dress in a honking second.
The Nimble Gamine: Christine and the Queens
New Album: Christine and the Queens (Because/Neon Gold/Atlantic; out Oct. 16)
Who's Christine?: Héloïse Letissier
Who are the Queens?: Inspired by local drag musicians at Madame Jojo's bar in London's Soho district, Letissier has been accompanied by trans performers like Russella. Hence, the Queens.
Characteristics: Austere androgynous chic. Read: a no-nonsense lob and androgynous suits and oxfords.
Habitat: Paris and Nantes, France, where she grew up with a poster of Klaus Nomi on the wall. Videos like the new one for "Paradis Perdus" that refuse to trade on traditional feminine sexuality and instead bury Letissier in a hulking pink suit reminiscent of the stuff in David Byrne's Stop Making Sense closet. Tours like her current one with Marina and the Diamonds. The Victoires de la Musique or the French Grammys, where she was named female artist of the year and earned music video of the year for the "Saint Claude" clip.
Sound: Hip-hop has left its mark on Letissier's music with sonic nods to Kanye West, airy and beat-centered arrangements, and agile switch-ups between French and English. Yet the performer sidesteps overt stereotypical aggression in favor of choices that are decidedly more elusive, light-footed, and original. Contributors like Perfume Genius and Tunji Ige keep matters from getting too hermetic.
How Bush/Björk are we talking?: Letissier's astral beats tip a hat to Björk, and her irrepressible footwork and quirk-ridden choreography shake a jazz hand at Bush.
Marina and the Diamonds and Christine and the Queens perform Oct. 20–21 at the Fox Theater, 1807 Telegraph Ave., Oakland. 8pm, $35. Details here.
Florence and the Machine play Oct. 21–22 at the Greek Theatre, UC Berkeley, 2001 Gayley Road, Berkeley. 7pm, $60.50. The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger opens. Details here.