Give Owens time and she might make something truly formidable.
Kelly Lee Owens came out of rock, but she’s so good at techno she should make it full-time. The best moments of her debut – the culmination so far of a career that’s taken her from a stint in indie-pop band The History of Apple Pie to a chance encounter with DJ Daniel Avery and a rising profile as a remixer – come when she plunges headfirst into the dancefloor. The worst suggest that she ought to shed her rock roots entirely to get the full potential out of her music.
Kelly Lee Owens spans 10 songs in 46 minutes, typical rock-album parameters. It could benefit from being twice that long. Two songs here, “Anxi.” and “Lucid,” start in ethereal dream-pop mode before Owens tacks on a kick drum and bassline to the end as an afterthought. Each might be better if the pop part was the intro and the dance part was the meat of the song, because Owens isn’t nearly as good at making pop as she is at making beats. And as a listening experience it’s best-suited for drifting off to, which is hard to do when it switches to a new song every couple minutes. Expanding these songs would make them easier to get lost in.
Though Owens is great at layering her voice into falsetto flocks, she succeeds most on her least vocal-centric songs. “Arthur” is a silky blend of layered choirs and sleek synth disco, flowing seamlessly out of opener “S.O” in an impressive opening salvo. “8” is a sort of digital raga surely inspired by Owens’ interest in “healing frequencies.” “Bird,” guided by a mbira sample not far from what you might find on Bonobo’s Migration from this year, abandons the vocals entirely.
When she sings, it’s mostly in short, meaningless slogans that could sell handbags – which is appropriate given that this is music sleek and elegant enough to soundtrack any runway. “The colors of beauty in motion” (“CBM”). “See the evolution, be the revolution” (“Revolution”). You’d be forgiven for wanting Owens to sing something a little more substantial, but that’s beside the point of this music, which succeeds primarily through the animal pleasures it provides.
Furthermore, it’s good that Owens isn’t afraid to play a little dumb here. Indie rock’s pretense of intellectualism means a lot of likeminded artists would probably still insert references to Debussy and Derrida into a record like this. Not Owens. The colors of beauty in motion are clearly good enough for her. This isn’t music you’re supposed to “get” so much as music you’re supposed to zone out to. In its meditative, almost New Age qualities, the music here evokes the “headfuck techno” of Italian artists like Cio D’Or and Donato Dozzy’s Voices from the Lake.
Kelly Lee Owens comes on strong, but it still sounds like a step towards something greater – either a fruitful career or just a better record. Still, it’s amazing how fully-formed it is given that she’s such a newcomer to this kind of music. Give Owens time to figure out her strengths and weaknesses and she might make something truly formidable.