Fragmented aesthetic tunes offer intrigue…
Perhaps the most striking thing about the debut album from Kelly Lee Owens is its fractured nature. At heart an electronic album, the tracks contained within dart between ambient soundscapes and beat-driven compositions.
Owens, who originally grew up in Wales, has been a fixture of the London music scene since becoming bassist for The History Of Apple Pie. She’s also worked for Pure Groove Records, Rough Trade and, in more recent times, Sister Ray. It was during her Pure Groove stint that she met Daniel Avery, who asked her to supply vocals for his track ‘Drone Logic’. That led to co-writing some of the tracks that later featured on the album of the same name.
Having found the confidence to start producing music on her own, it was a short step for Owens to start writing and composing her own material. The result is her eponymous debut, which manages to elicit a range of responses depending on which tracks you’re playing.
Take the gauzy ambience of opening track ‘S.O’ which manages to drop the listener into a warm, immersive cocoon. ‘Arthur’ (a tribute to avant-garde composer Arthur Russell), on the other hand, opens with a soundscape of birdsong and nature sounds. Later, it weaves in subliminal beats combined with a breathy, indistinct vocal.
So far, so atmospheric. But when the fragmented ‘Anxi.’ starts up, there’s another gear change of sorts. Featuring the talents of acclaimed Norwegian artist Jenny Hval, ‘Anxi.’ is an intriguing dreamlike composition featuring an amalgamation of dreampop, spoken lyrics and glitchy electronica.
It’s an album that certainly has no problem switching up the rules for song writing. In Owen’s eyes, some of her work passes as ‘songs’ (compositions with a traditional arrangement) through to ‘tracks’ that are more loose, dance-orientated tunes and ‘hybrids’ which merge the two together.
‘Lucid’ is one of Owens’ earlier compositions, one which falls into the camp of ‘hybrid’. The evocative strings that underpin the track gives it a strength that makes it one of the standout cuts from the album. It also suggests that Owens can work on a broader musical palette if the mood takes her.
‘Evolution’ opts for a journey into the throbbing bass territory with a minimalist glitch approach. Meanwhile, ‘Bird’ returns to the use of strings, overlaid here with an oddly hypnotic music box melody. The track builds up as it goes, adding on bass rhythms to give it a low-rent techno appeal.
There’s definitely a callback to early Grimes for ‘Throwing Lines’ whose ethereal layered vocals over spacey electronics sounds like it could have been drawn directly from albums such as Halfaxa.
‘CBM’ has an hypnotic, dubby feel to it as electronic beats underpin a slightly fragmented vocal. Elsewhere, there’s an airy quality to ‘Keep Walking’ which at times sounds like something that’s escaped from a 4AD release.
Album closer ‘8’ is an epic, hypnotic soundscape of drone and gossamer vocals that take on a choral quality.
Kelly Lee Owens, as an album, is drawing critical praise from a range of commentators. Certainly there’s a lot of interesting things going on here, although it’s probably too loose and fragmented to be a completely cohesive body of work. But Owens is clearly someone with a voice and with an interest in exploration. Her debut album provides an intriguing foundation, but it’s what comes next that’s going to convince us to continue exploring with her.
Kelly Lee Owens is out now on Smalltown Supersound
Publications that have featured his contributions include Electronic Sound, Metro, Japan Update Weekly, J-Pop Go, Wavegirl and OMD Messages.