ALBUM OF THE WEEK #1: Kelly Lee Owens - Inner Song (Smalltown Supersound)
KLO does not not disappoint with album #2, as she explores the furthest reaches of her electronic universe
Welsh shoegazer-turned-electronic-wonder Kelly Lee Owens released her fantastic debut album in 2017 and has stayed busy since, playing live, DJing, and releasing new single "Let it Go" and John Hopkins collab "Luminous Spaces" last year. Both of those tracks are fantastic, but neither make their way onto Owens' second album, Inner Song, which doesn't need them.
Owens established a sound fairly quickly, mixing Berlin techno with elements of trip hop (and other '90s styles) and an ethereal vocal style that owes more than a little to her dreampop past. She both focuses that and expands upon it for Inner Song, a sublime album that is both heavenly and club-ready. Sometimes on the same song, like fantastic single "On," which she says is "the most intimate and personal song I've written so far." It begins as a mournful torch song about leaving things behind, but the flickering synth arpeggiations get stronger as the song moves on and cracks open into pure, danceable liberation.
Those signature arpeggiations, which zip back and forth across the stereo field, power another of Inner Song's standouts, "Jeanette," that bounces like Vince Clarke but in a way Erasure or Yazoo never would. Speaking of arpeggiations, Inner Song features a cover of Radiohead's In Rainbows track "Weird Fishes/Arpeggi" that skips the weird fishes and the lyrics for a gurgling instrumental that serves as the album's lead-in.
That said, vocals take on a much more prominent role here. In addition to "On," there's also "L.I.N.E." and album closer "Wake Up," two of the most overtly pop numbers KLO has ever made, both of which sound like they could've been '80s slow jams (Martika? Alan Parsons?) but filtered through her distinctive astral style. Elsewhere, Owens' vocals give wings to hard-hitting techno track "Night" as it soars across a dark sky.
One of the most ambitious tracks on the album is "Corner of My Sky," her collaboration with The Velvet Underground's John Cale. Set to a woozy backing with gentle waves of bassy synths and a seriously warped string section, Cale offers vocals in both English and Welsh, chanting a mantra of "The rain, the rain, the rain, thank god the rain." Owens says it "might be what microdosing mushrooms sounds like." Like all of Inner Song, it's transportive stuff, no matter where your head's at.