Smalltown Supersound – 2020

Welsh born, London based producer, musician and songwriter Kelly Lee Owens returns with her sophomore album Inner Song, the follow up to 2017’s vibrant and sonically emotive self-titled debut album Kelly Lee Owens. In the time between she’s taken to remixing a 12″ of St. Vincent and Björk with ‘Let It Go/ Omen‘. And last year collaborating with producer Jon Hopkins to create the single Luminous Spaces. What allowed her debut album to stand out from its techno contemporaries was its attention to detail of sound movement, consistently expanding and evolving as it progressed.

Where Kelly Lee Owens saw Owens use her voice as an instrument to add to the already dynamic soundscape, with occasional vocal flairs added in, she’s now embraced her voice as a vessel to tell stories. ‘On’ and ‘Night’ showcase Owens ability to drive her stories not just through planes of techno, but adding in elements of dream pop. With the former progressing through heavenly vocal passages of transitioning love. “Headin’ hard in unison, We can’t go forward, Can’t go forward, Can only love as deeply as you see itself”. Backed with ethereal vocal harmonies and a distant synth melody bubbling in and out. The track slowly transitions into a down and dirty techno banger, and whilst it may nearly hit the 6 minute mark it is in a constant state of flux. Continuously elaborating on ideas it hints at earlier in the track; leaving you constantly guessing at what could be next. ‘Night’ takes influence from the likes of Bat For Lashes with its subtle but glowing vocals, cascading out over a swaying techno beat. Eventually leading into one of the hardest drops on the album; dirty bass lines and hard grooves aplenty. It’s Owens ability to perfectly fuse these styles without going too hard in one direction to make the other obsolete that shows her progression not just as a producer but as a songwriter.

The consistency of this album finds its place in the form of the sparkling soundscapes Owens creates, and the vivid images these soundscapes create within your mind. ‘Corner Of My Sky’ featuring John Cale is a slow burning cinematic and hypnotic showcase for Owens attention to detail with sound, and the way it’s manipulated. Slowly building through a loose beat, rising strings and Cale’s doubled up vocals. It feels as though you’re stood atop a vast opening in a mountainous region, the sky slowly clouding until at last the violins swirl with their dancing melody and the rain starts to fall. “Thank god the rain” Cale sings over and over, almost like a shaman calling to the weather. There’s never a moment on this track that feels overpowered with each element being carefully added and mixed in to represent a different movement within this story Owens is crafting. And ‘Melt!’ is a haunting movement that is fuelled by unease. The club like beats, delayed vocal samples and descending melodies draw you in to a welcoming sense of comfort. But lying beneath them is a somewhat haunting shimmer that slowly builds through the tracks progression, becoming more present as it continues. As if you’re trying to settle down at the club, whilst constantly looking over your shoulder for what could be approaching.

It wouldn’t be a Kelly Lee Owens album without moments of techno brilliance as well. Her cover and rearrangement of Radiohead’s ‘Arpeggi’ is a statement of Owens ability to being able to take the bare minimum of a song and fill it with life. Focusing mainly around the arpeggiated chord pattern that builds the main section of the original song. And although the sparkling instrumentation and powerful vocals that can be found in the original are gone, Owens still manages to fill the space with drum samples, glitchy synthesisers and a rolling bass that brings about a new, refreshing and intricately thought out take on this indie classic. ‘Jeanette’ is as rewarding as it is colourful. It may take a while for the big beat to kick in, gradually moving through different synth arrangements of the same melody. But when it does, the pay is worth every second of the wait. It’s a simple groove but adds that injection of energy the song has been teasing towards; challenging you not to bop your head.

There are moments on this album that don’t offer as much flavour as their counterparts. ‘Flow’ glides through a downbeat melody and rainforest like beat, with synthesisers sliding in and out. But over it’s near 5 minute course there just isn’t as much progression as previously found on this album. It’s a nice melody but the track seems to get stuck on this idea and seems to try few avenues to shake it off. Eventually just settling on letting the melody solo out the track.

Owens has certainly come into her own on Inner Song and expanded her already rich sound palette into new and exciting territories. She’s showcases an immense amount of control with the production of these songs, meticulously bending and shaping the sounds and movements to evoke the feelings and stories she’s telling. You can feel the confidence flowing out of the sides of this album as Owens challenges her own ability on where she can guide a song.

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