Smalltown Supersound – 24th March
Since releasing her debut single ‘Lucid’ in 2014, Kelly Lee Owens has built a collection of songs exploring the meeting point between pop and electronica. Last year, Owens put one foot on the dancefloor with Oleic, a techno-inspired EP that echoed the contributions she made to Daniel Avery’s Drone Logic. The shift wasn’t so much a surprise, but it was an indicator that Owens wasn’t finished experimenting before releasing a full-length.
Now, with her self-titled debut album, it transpires that Oleic was a stopgap for Owens to preview the record’s course. Hearing Kelly Lee Owens, it is a relief that she has not forfeited one sound for the other. The reason for this convergence is that Owens’ slipping between genres is where she operates best. The album’s merit, then, is its slippery nature. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the ominous ‘Anxi.’, her collaboration with Jenny Hval, which turns an otherwise gauzy ambient number into an eyes-closed techno number. Then there’s the closer ‘8’, that pulls a tanpura drone into a whirlpool of industrial kick drums and looping pulses. The standout, ‘Bird’, begins with ticking kalimba and a glacial melody but the track builds into something more ominous: brooding sub-bass, intermittent frequencies, and percussion that sounds like the rattling of a trapdoor.
Only two songs (‘Evolution’ and ‘CBM’) rank among techno purism and, with the inclusion of down-tempo mood pieces like opener ’S.O.’ and ‘Keep Walking’, it’s more accurate to consider Owens a composer than a producer. Owens also includes both songs of her debut A-side ‘Lucid/Arthur’ with ‘Lucid’ now in a different form. The first half is much the same – eerie and atmospheric – but now it features a deep bassline in its backend, with Owens’ ethereal vocals buried by the spacey echo that her beloved hero Arthur Russell utilised.
Kelly Lee Owens is a record that not only digests a variety of influences but also merges them together to provide an invigorating experience. It’s a stargazer’s fantasy of club music, intended for escapism and immersion through the detail-rich layers that have been laboured over meticulously. Not fitting into any particular box means there will be plenty of takers. Kelly Lee Owens has revealed herself as a sound designer of the highest order.