Producer and musician Kelly Lee Owens grew up in a small Welsh village. She sang in her school choir and played bass and drums in indie bands. She became an auxiliary nurse at a cancer treatment hospital in Manchester, but her patients encouraged her to pursue a career in music. She moved to London, where she worked in a record store and played bass in the indie band The History of Apple Pie.
Owens became interested in electronic music and collaborated with Daniel Avery on his 2013 album Drone Logic. She released her first EP, Oleic, in 2016 and a self-titled album in 2017. Her sophomore album Inner Song was delayed by the 2020 coronavirus pandemic.
In a young career, Owens has already worked with John Cale, St. Vincent, and Björk. She juxtaposes her pretty, wispy vocals with the cold pulse of techno, making music that’s accessible for electronica neophytes like me.
Kelly Lee Owens Album Reviews
Kelly Lee Owens
Owens developed a taste for techno while collaborating on Daniel Avery’s Drone Logic. She recorded her debut album on Avery’s collection of analogue synths. She also expressed an interest in healing frequencies, and she uses Tibetan singing bowls on ‘CBM’, while closer ‘8’ was inspired by gong baths. The crystalline synths and cold beats contrast with the human element brought by her delicate vocals. Owens musical palette is minimalist, but her debut also includes flashes of ambient and dream pop.
The dark pulse of ‘CbM’ is the exception rather than the rule – most of these songs have upfront vocal hooks. Memorable pieces include the woozy opener ‘S.O’ and ‘Throwing Lines’, both lovely despite Owens burying her vocals deep in the mix. ‘Arthur’ is a tribute to Arthur Russell, while ominous closer ‘8’ runs for almost ten minutes with a collage of ideas. ‘Keep Walking’ is a lovely, uplifting closer.
Kelly Lee Owens is a lovely debut, Owens making beautiful music with an individual stamp.
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.
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, alongside her skills in electronica.
Owens wasn’t able to tour Inner Song because of the Covid pandemic. Instead, she booked a flight to Oslo and made an album with avant-noise artist Lasse Marhaug. Owens and Marhaug aimed to create music that combined the new age Celtic mysticism of Enya and the industrial sounds of Throbbing Gristle. LP.8 is more ambient and less song-based than Owens’ previous work – it makes sense to regard it as a standalone project rather than the successor to Inner Song.
Even when she’s trying to make music in the vein of Throbbing Gristle, Owens sounds lovely anyway. The standout track on LP.8 is the gorgeous ‘One’, with Owens’ clear soprano voice. There’s more ambient material than on Owens’ previous record, with beautiful pieces like ‘Nana Piano’ and ‘Olga’. Owens is effective on the spoken word pieces, like ‘Quickening’ and ‘Sonic B’, but they hold less replay value.
LP.8 isn’t as fully-formed as Owens’ previous two records, but it’s a successful expedition into more esoteric territory.
Best Kelly Lee Owens Songs
Corner of My Sky
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