The fact that Kelly Lee Owens spent time soaking in influences by working in record stores is clear on her debut full-length. With hand-drums, droning strings, and varying vocal approaches all coming into play, the album taps into ambient and drone traditions while also delivering a constant stream of danceable bass lines and bouncy synth arpeggiations.
Owens sounds grown up on here. The sonic fingerprint of the project maintains a certain white sheen, Owens never throwing in tone colors popping or obnoxious. Her melodic sense is impeccable, yet she doesn’t shove it down her listener’s throat. Songs like “Lucid” or “Keep Walking” allude to a possible jump into the electronic pop world, whereas “8” alludes to some left-field experimentation. Owens could explore either in more depth in the future, but her self-titled album strikes a great mix of light drive and ruminating contemplation.
A constant theme on the record is the crafting of mood before the allowance of rhythmic drive. Songs like “Anxi” and “Lucid” gradually find a clubby groove by the end, but Owens takes time at the beginning to paint their sonic identity. With Jenny Hval in tow, “Anxi” kicks off with a simple, low melody with a lot of delay effect before subdued drum patterns gradually settle in under the stringy vocal lines. Around the halfway point, the track focus in on a driving drum groove with lightly touched keyboard pecks complimented by a bassy melodic line making for rousing momentum.
“Lucid” follows with a more pronounced initial vocal melody and again spends time landscaping before the crunchy synths that jump in around the two-minute mark. Owens isn’t one to offer infectious hooks or even super structured songs, so these stark shifts in energy make the project memorable and dynamic.
Elsewhere—namely “Arthur” and “Keep Walking”—Owens elevates simple instrumental environments to enlightening heights with huge washes of vocals. Apparently Owens’s tribute to Arthur Russell, “Arthur” opens with some textural noise and distant vocals. The track gradually picks up a bit, but the instrumental remains rather stagnant as vocal countermelodies crash into one another over top.
Admittedly, “Keep Walking” is a bit brighter than my personal preference—I find Owens to be at her best when she’s aiming to smolder—but the end of the track is undeniably enlightening as the simple drum part and shimmering instrumental melody underpin the pillow of “oohs” and empowering main melody.
The kinship to drone music is most obvious on the ten-minute jam “8”—the tune on the record that contains the most gradual build in energy. We open with some Alice Coltrane-esque string drones, which never really leave the equation as the whole sonic space swells over the sparse percussion. Around the two-minute mark, Owens introduces a simple, high melodic device that doesn’t develop a whole lot, instead looping a handful of times, making for a numbing hypnosis.
Kelly Lee Owens has all her taste in the right place. Her self-titled record carves out a nice niche in the electronic realm with killer grooves and pillows of beauty holding equal weight.