Despite its billing as a ‘techno’ album, Kelly Lee Owens’ self-titled debut is that and a whole lot more. On last year’s Oleic EP, Owens exhibited her brand of emotionally-driven techno across a selection of four tracks that, while subtle and nuanced, still would have sat well in the club. Her debut album experiments further with the emotional side of electronic music, sometimes forgoing danceability altogether in favour of lush and dreamy textures. It covers a lot of sonic ground, invoking artists as wide ranging as Bjork, Nina Kraviz and Slowdive.
Opener ’S.O’ immediately establishes Owens’ lofty ambitions. An ever present synth pad and Kelly’s soaring, layered vocals gives the song an almost dream-pop-esque spacey feel while interesting rhythms plink and plop in the foreground. At its close, a burst of granular noise swallows the song and fades into the rest of the album. It’s an effective opener and sets the ‘subaqueous’ (Owens’ own word, and an effective one) tone for the next track ‘Arthur’, named after one of Owens’ musical heroes, Arthur Russell.
The album highlight is undoubtedly ‘Lucid’, bringing together every element that makes the album unique: the subaqueous atmosphere, Kelly’s understated vocals, and tech-grooves.The reverb covered strings and pitter-patter drums of the first section bring to mind moments from Bjork’s Vespertine, before seamlessly transitioning to an analogue bassline and some modulated synths for a more danceable close. Owens’ lyrics also invoke Bjork, using brief phrases that may not mean much on their own but are imbued with a kind of emotional urgency by the sounds that surround them.
Owens’ has discussed at length her interest in the healing properties of sound, an interest that stems from working on a cancer ward in her early twenties. This is most apparent on final track ‘8’. Making use of different resonances thought to have a spiritually healing factor, she serves a nine minute, sprawling odyssey through an endlessly evolving set of resonances. It’s a fantastic ending for an album that has covered so much, a victory lap that contextualises everything you’ve just heard with the simple phrase “See it, grow”, which Owens’ repeats over the beautiful maelstrom, before it slowly fades away.
The only downside to this album is a couple of the tracks do feel like filler (‘Bird’, ‘Keep Walking’) but that’s only in comparison to the ambition and scale of some of the other tracks. Kelly Lee Owens has made one of the most sonically interesting electronic albums of the year so far and all signs point to it maintaining that spot by the time ‘Best of 2017’ lists emerge at the end of the year.
Words by Jack Hollis