One of many albums I discovered right at the end of 2017 was the debut of Kelly Lee Owens. Rereleased as an extended version, her electronic dubs and chilled out zen-like vibes craft a really interesting sound that you may overlook on first listen. Give it time though and the earworms will take hold.
Opening with simple basslines chilled out but chunky drums and simple electronic lines, “S O” gives you into the groove without stretching things too far. Instead its “Arthur” that plays with your expectations. It’s a rhythmic drone from the ether but its one that has all the usual volume levels of instruments changed about. A heartbeat metronomic pulse is the main focus and the vocals drift behind everything. It’s a dream on the dancefloor… in slow motion – and very hypnotic. “Anxi” continues that hypnotic vibe and it stays throughout the album. This track channelling something more gritty, dark alley and film noir. It’s “Lucid” where everything shines perfectly though. The track has two halves, one showcasing the ethereal side, and one showcasing the minimalist electronica side. For those not into electronica – think Kylie Minogue’s “Slow” for perhaps the best comparison from a mainstream side of things.
Minimalist though she is, Kelly always keeps things changing. Even with drone tracks like “Evolution”, the track does evolve (pun not intended). Some of her work like this is very club friendly. Others like “Bird” are more ethereal mood pieces – although this track, in particular, has beautiful kalima arrangments that I could listen to for ages on end. “Throwing Lines” again merges the two together in something more melodic and dare I say radio approachable. It’s probably the other track aside from Lucid that would be a good entrance point.
“CBM” really reminds me of Towa Tei with its rigid beats, militant synths and rubbery bass. I want the track to be called IBM as it feels tron like and AI driven. “Keep Walking” returns to spacious electronica that channels Mandalay to give you a breath of fresh air before the near ten minutes “8” takes you on an industrial metal clanging, tamboura droning dance raja. As the track progresses, it gets denser and more modern with its flavour of noise as it shifts from relaxing to manic – really cleverly done. After the hedonistic section, the light and fluffy bells of “Spaces” accentuated with Kelly singing in her baby voice feel like a slightly haunted epiphany. That lets the sci-fi pop of “Pull” and closer “1 of 3” also shine as they play with weird drums, sweeping synth pads and hints of big tunes that never do quite explode into a massive dance off due to Kelly’s minimalist nature.
Kelly Lee Owen’s music is minimalist, but entrancing and actually quite difficult to write about at great length. Its beauty is in what’s there but also the clarity (or often with the vocals, the lack of clarity) it brings. Strangely more than the sum of its parts.
Recommended Track: Lucid