This week we look at 2020 releases from Wales, Russia, and North Carolina (via Ghana). Enjoy!
Kelly Lee Owens
Welsh musician Kelly Lee Owens sang in her school choir and played bass, but didn’t pursue electronic music until she moved to London in her twenties. She garnered acclaim for her 2017 self-titled debut, and her 2020 sophomore record is enhanced with experience. Her vocals were mixed low and used like an instrument on Kelly Lee Owens. On Inner Song they’re upfront, and she’s as much songwriter as electronica artist.
As an electronica neophyte, Inner Song is an accessible record. Owens adds lovely vocals to half of these tracks. Entry points for rock-oriented listeners include an opening cover of Radiohead’s ‘Arpeggi’ and The Velvet Underground’s John Cale providing vocals on ‘Corner of My Sky’.
The addition of John Cale’s haughty vocals to ‘Corner of My Sky’ is a great change of pace mid-record – as a fellow forward-thinking Welsh musician, he’s a logical creative partner, and his authoritative voice is magnetic. Instrumentals like ‘Flow’ and ‘Jeanette’ are gentle yet dynamic.
When Owens is on lead vocals, the record takes a dream pop feel – songs like ‘Re-Wild’ are pretty and meditative. Owens described the period between her two albums as “the hardest three years of my life,” but her lyrics don’t go into details, opting for elegant vagueness. Her voice is lovely on songs like ‘L.I.N.E.’. which threatens to lurch into a 1980s ballad, while closer ‘Wake-Up’ is the loveliest moment.
Inner Song is an accomplished second record that establishes Owens as a capable vocalist and songwriter, while maintaining her reputation in electronica.
Room For The Moon
Moscow artist Kate NV is was born as Ekaterina Shilonosova in Kazan, and also serves as vocalist for the post-punk band Glintshake. Room for the Moon is her third solo album, but it’s seen a marked increase in her profile. It’s a concept album about the moon, occupying an art-pop space comparable with Cate Le Bon or Kate Bush. Room for the Moon is kitsch and infused with childlike wonder, but it’s also substantial musically.
Kate NV eschews rock textures, instead combining electronic rhythms with orchestral instruments. Post-punk bass-lines share space with Japanese 1980s synth-pop. She sings in four different languages – French, Japanese, English, and Russian.
Room For The Moon starts meekly with instrumental tracks. Second track ‘Du Na’ percolates with a smooth late night jazz feel, and the record doesn’t reach a full head of steam until the rhythm enters on fourth track ‘Ça commence par’.
Unusually, the poppier songs are clustered in the second half of the record – ‘Telefon’ has a 1980s flavour with a great vocal hook and synth part. ‘Plans’ is built around a fretless bass that’s constantly in motion, while ‘Lu Na’ recalls Steve Reich with its interlocking synths.
Room for the Moon is a fascinating record that combines disparate musical traditions into a playful tribute to the moon.
Moses Sumney was born in San Bernardino, California to Ghanaian parents. He spent his adolescence in Ghana, but is now based in Asheville, North Carolina. Græ is his second album, an ambitious double album that showcases his fusion between indie and soul.
Græ was released in two parts – the first in February and the second in May. I find the whole more impressive than enjoyable. He’s technically impressive on ‘Keeps Me Alive’, with its wide ranging vocal and accompanying himself on guitar. The lack of of hooks and stylistic variety makes for tough listening over 65 minutes.
There are some strong tracks nonetheless – the gospel-flavoured bridge on ‘Cut Me’ is a memorable moment. The more abrasive songs like ‘Virile’ are often the most effective, showcasing some grit in Sumney’s voice. Sumney’s joined by Thundercat on bass for this track, while Adult Jazz supplies the bass on ‘Cut Me’. ‘Colouour’, with its orchestrated introduction and tender vocal, is reminiscent of Vampire Weekend. The monologues from guest vocalists provide variety but interrupt the flow.
Græ is an ambitious effort with thematic heft, and Sumney’s vocals are technically impressive, but there’s not enough memorable material to sustain a 65 minute running time.