Kelly Lee Owens: Inner Song (Smalltown Supersound) Review | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Sunday, September 20th, 2020  

Kelly Lee Owens

Inner Song

Smalltown Supersound

Aug 28, 2020 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


Kelly Lee Owens is many things—dream pop crooner, techno fuser, vinyl enthuser—but more than anything else, she’s a mood landscaper. Nestled somewhere between bedroom pop and dancefloor bop, her endlessly evocative electronic music charts the emotional throughlines that tie the night out to the morning after. Owens’ sophomore record, Inner Song, finds her searching tirelessly for emotional catharsis, and for meaning between the lines, but she’s forever haunted by the rhythmic pace of last night’s kick drum. 

It’s Owens’ burrowing introspection that gives Inner Song its pensive character, as well as its title (though it’s also a reference to free jazz cellist Alan Silva’s 1974 album of the same name). Recorded over a wintry month spent bunkered down in a studio with engineer James Greenwood after a period of time Owens describes as “the hardest three years of my life,” every synth line carries a weight, a melancholy minor key that outweighs the natural buoyancy of her production style. 

What immediately sets Owens' second record apart is her decision to open such a personal album with a cover of Radiohead’s “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi”—fittingly her stripped back version is simply titled, “Arpeggi.” Acting as an emotional barometer for what’s to come, her vocal-less interpretation sounds subterranean, the focal arpeggiated synth submerged beneath the waves, reaching ever upward and outward. It’s laden with sadness, but each pitch shift holds the promise that the next repeated cycle might be different. “To me,” says Owens, “it sounds like rising out of something quite bleak and hopeless, and resurfacing—a comeback from where I was.” 

More than simply setting a tone, this opening cover sets a precedent. It emphasizes that Owens’ vocals are but one tool in an extensive roster—a means of concretely expressing her doubts, but far from her sole means of emotional expression. On “Jeanette” there are no vocals, but the scittish momentum of each loop conveys a panic tempered by excitement, calling to mind the teeth-grinding excess of coming up. Likewise, her wispy entreaties on “Night” convey meaning far beyond words. “Feel what’s right/Only in the night,” she sings, her delivery lost between hedonic rapture and apathetic malaise, her downward spiral matched by the track’s descent into thumping industrial techno.

Then there’s the laconic “Corner of My Sky,” a loosely assembled series of tumbling bass notes and tinkling wind chimes orbiting vocals from fellow Wales native John Cale. His poetic pontifications on nature are gorgeous in their abstract understatement, his drawl carried along by the ebbs and flows of Owens’ spacious production. Then, suddenly he’s singing in thick Welsh, his meaning lost to some, but his intention carried clearly by the swells in the surrounding sonic architecture. This is music designed to be felt in your gut, and Owens makes no attempt to pull her punches.

One of Owens’ most laudable traits is she doesn’t ever overcomplicate matters. There’s a deceptive simplicity to her production that affords her a remarkable versatility, spanning the four-on-the-floor drive of the appropriately punctuated climate change belter “Melt!”’ to the lowdown after-club slink of “Re-Wild.” The result is an album that, like its opening arpeggio, constantly feels like it’s building on itself, even as Owens can’t help but reflect on the past. By creating an album that speaks to her own experiences in its every nuance, she’s crafted one of the finest subversive pop records of the year. (www.kellyleeowens.com)         

Author rating: 8/10

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Average reader rating: 8/10



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