Kelly Lee Owens: ‘LP.8’ (Smalltown Supersound)

Recorded in a wintery Oslo amid the ongoing disruption of Covid, this is the “eighth album” from Kelly Lee Owens. Except it’s not – it’s her third. This numeric trickery has happened before. Writer Nicholas Royle named his seventh novel ‘First Novel’, while ‘One’ was U2’s 27th single. Those crazy kids. 

While three may not be her magic number, North Wales producer Owens has done something different with this very real imaginary future album, partnering with Smalltown Supersound labelmate Lasse Marhaug for a series of unplanned studio sessions. 

Marhaug is an experimental artist whose CV includes statically charged sound-scrapes with king of noise Merzbow, and an ear-putrefying drone show with Sunn O))). Their musical mood board was “somewhere in between Throbbing Gristle and Enya”. Industrial meets ethereal. It’s a heavy vibe to bring into the mix. While the record doesn’t quite match peak ‘Orinoco Flow’ throes – I was fruitlessly imagining a black metal cover of ‘Caribbean Blue’ – just having this juxtaposition seems appropriate considering Owens’ similarly duotone previous album ‘Inner Song’. That fizzed with the brilliant contrasts of torch songs and techno.

‘LP.8’ starts with pressure cooker hisses, joined by insistent basement banging and Owens’ breathless repetition of “Release, release, release”. It sounds like either a command or an increasingly desperate request. Basically, we have a kidnap situation. A brief diversion into Andy Stott-style vocal cataclysms leads us to the totemic ‘Anadlu’. Ghostly breaths circle a distinctly Celtic atmosphere, while a loose LFO-esque bass hammers for attention. There’s that chest-tightening banging again. In one of several vocal mantras, Owens repeats “Anadlu”, which is “breathe” in Welsh, but is easily misheard as a sweetly anglicised “I love you”. Layers of wide strings accelerate into something Eno-ish and elegiac, and suddenly we’re as far from Merzbow as Oslo is from Oz.

Gentler drones introduce the first truly Enya moment, with Owens in slow-mo ballad flow on ‘S.O (2)’. “S-o-o-o…” she says endlessly, as her voice drips into smoothly suspended synths. Cue visions of windswept hills dotted with ambling sheep. This introduces a marshmallow middle to the album, full of extended woodwind, chiming ambience with a fuzz-ball bass, and warm soups of reverbed notes that dissipate the tension of the opening tracks. The damp pianoforte on ‘Nana Piano’ is not necessarily out of tune, its notes are just a little ruddy and ageing, the title’s grandmotherly suggestion contributing to its heavy scent of nostalgia.

The chime of a dril-bu stops us in our tracks when ‘Quickening’ begins. It feels like a big moment on ‘LP.8’. The meditational bell draws in another bombastically bassy bass, followed by diffused vocal shards and Owens telling us, “There is a vitality / An energy / Quickening that’s translated through you into action”. Despite the motivational talk, this is the quietest moment, with only fluttering static there to fill its audio voids. And then, from unseen fjords rise reedy wails that glide into a circle of harmonics. A Celtic swell. A gasp. The ghost of something hidden. It’s a charming sequence that doesn’t just dissipate tension – it flips the tension on its head.

The eighth track is called ‘One’. Yes, the confused calculations are back. A slow thrum beds Owens’ placid voice in what turns out to be a simple love song. “You are the one,” she says. “Everything is possible.” 

In a pleasingly unsettling call-back, the closing piece, ‘Sonic 8’, attempts to return to the taut ratchets of ‘Release’. Marhaug’s thunderous sonic interruptions rise yet again. Boom. Boom. There’s some gristle in those throbs. Owens has an urgent conversational intervention with her own delirious whispers – her playful yet sincere narration wouldn’t be out of place on Caro C’s ‘Electric Mountain’. 

The question we must ask is, did the album soften up too much before this moment? Or was this the perfect expression of a locked-down musician cocooned from the pressures of “normal” gigging life? The mantras. The bells. The lyrical reassurances. Is this Kelly Lee Owens attaining nirvana?

I have an enduring image of Enya in her wispy ‘Orinoco Flow’ dress, valiantly detached and above all of the music. Kind of the opposite to Genesis P-Orridge ripping it up in some avant-garde underground den. Kelly Lee Owens is a hybrid of the two, the grand and the grubby offering some glorious musical contrasts. This pretend eighth album does not deviate from that, despite being loftier than the club clobber of her previous work. I’d mark it out of 10 but, to be honest, I’ve lost count. 

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