Album Review: Kelly Lee Owens, ‘Inner Song’

    “It feels so good to be alone,” Kelly Lee Owens croons over nocturnal synths on ‘Night’. It’s a transcendent moment that crystallises what the electronic producer’s latest album is largely about: finding solace in solitude. Her dreamy voice seems to float above the ether, dancing around the minimalist techno beat untethered and free, as if to emulate the strange mental spaces that are illuminated when the lights are low. Owens’ vocals slowly rise into the front of the mix, growing in volume as the song reaches its euphoric yet still restrained climax. In an unexpected turn, she then addresses another person that may or may not be in the same room, adding the line “with you.” But in the context of the record, the song feels less like a romantic gesture than an invitation for the listener to participate in this journey of self-discovery, to share in the pleasures that come with opening up your inner world.

    Inner Song, Kelly Lee Owens’ sophomore album following her 2017 self-titled debut, reveals the artist’s growth in both the creative and personal realm. Combining her penchant for evocative songwriting with her knack for crafting intricately textured electronic grooves, Owens weaves her compositions around a tighter thematic thread this time around, one that’s focused on finding strength in one’s self rather than succumbing to outer forces. “Felt the power in me/ Things are different in me,” she sings on the spaced-out ‘Re-Wild’. On the emotional highlight ‘On’, Owens delivers one of her most direct compositions, slipping into the kind of dream pop-adjacent territory that she often veered towards on her debut: “So/ This is how it must go/ And now I am moving on.” Despite some of the more somber tones that coat the instrumental, her soft delivery makes the proclamation sound delightfully uncomplicated.

    Throughout the album, Owens’ steady, cyclical compositions seem to function as a way of carving out that path forward. She might be utilizing her vocals a fair bit more here, but she continues to prove her adeptness at building those rich emotional worlds through just her instrumentals. The most notable example here is the unexpected, fully instrumental cover of Radiohead’s ‘Weird Fishes/ Arpeggi’ that opens the record, which manages to encapsulate Thom Yorke’s metaphysical musings by allowing those arpeggiated synths to undulate through an otherworldly flow without ever losing their warmth. It does an excellent job of evoking the quality of being submerged underwater (“In the deepest ocean/ The bottom of the sea,” Yorke sings on the original), sinking further and further into some form of blissful abyss.

    It’s only natural, then, that the album ventures into some icier territory the deeper we get, which makes parts of Inner Song somewhat less accessible. From the cold and distant pulse of ‘Melt!’ to the repetitive club grooves of ‘Jeanette’, these moments might alienate the average listener, but provide an interesting counterpoint to the more cordial and emotionally resonant songs like ‘Re-Wild’ and ‘L.I.N.E.’, perhaps the hookiest and most melodic of all the tracks here, in which Owens offers one of her most heartfelt choruses: “Love is not enough to stay/ I’d rather be on my own.”

    But the most compelling cut on Inner Song is also the one that seems to be its biggest thematic outlier: ‘Corner of My Sky’, a collaboration with John Cale that’s both transfixing and masterfully constructed, finds the two artists meditating, in their own separate ways, on their relationship with their homeland. And yet, as disconnected as it may initially come off, it leaps right into the kind of mental state that the whole album seems intent on reproducing: of immersing yourself completely into something or someone instead of getting sucked into the temporal nature of everyday life. When Owens chants “wake up, wake up” on the closing track, it becomes evidently clear that this dream-like excursion that the album has taken us on is nearing its end. How fortunate, then, that we can plunge back in at any time.

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