Kelly Lee Owens has called her third album an “outlier”, reflecting ‘LP. 8’s sonic shift towards bracing, industrial sounds. In contrast, her second album, the magnificent ‘Inner Song’, offered club-ready techno-pop for the head and heart and was created after the artist experienced a period of personal loss.
Having travelled to Oslo in the winter of 2020 when her world tour was cancelled by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Welsh singer, producer and songwriter got in the studio with Norwegian avant-noise artist Lasse Marhaug (known for her work with drone metal band Sunn O)))). The pair envisioned making music somewhere in between Throbbing Gristle and Enya and, with the record’s tougher moments further sharpened by studio heads Cherif Hashizume (who’s worked with Jon Hopkins) and Beau Thomas (Aphex Twin), they created an album both beautiful and challenging.
Techno-leaning opener ‘Release’ gradually builds tension with metronomic pounding and Owens’ repeated instruction to “release” as she exhales heavily over shivery whispers. It all adds up to an ethereal, slightly unsettling five minutes – a fitting introduction to the ominous, nine-track record. ‘Voice’, meanwhile, sees Owens’ faint voice float across an intricate soundscape of mystic, celestial noise and hippie-twangs, conjuring a psychedelic trip.
Time and again, Owens creates intricate and emotive world-building through patient instrumental layering. Built on fire-like crackles and a buzzing synth, ‘S.O (2)’ sees Owens’ heavenly choral-style vocal really take flight, soaring over beautiful chords, while the intimate ‘Nana Piano’ strips things back to five-and-a-half minutes of moving piano keys.
‘LP. 8’s final three tracks carry a strong message: the desperate need to take action on climate change. At first built on static fuzzes and a distorted vocal, ‘Quickening’ sees Owens deliver a typically thought-provoking spoken-word call to arms: “Your business is to keep it yours, clearly, and directly / To keep the channel open,” before letting out a pained cry that could be interpreted as Earth’s final gasp for breath.
‘One’ is similarly poignant, but it’s apocalyptic closer ‘Sonic 8’ that conveys this sense of urgency most directly. Crashing drums and ticking-time-bomb synths are coupled with repeated lyrics – ”this is an emergency, this is a wake-up call” – before Owens asks: “What are you gonna do about it? / None of us are free unless all of us are free”. You get the feeling that Owens’ isn’t just referring to global warming, but also the state of our conflict-full world in general.
It’s a hugely impactful way to close an album that manages to make a lot of noise and ask the big questions – even in its quieter moments.
Release date: April 29
Record label: Smalltown Supersound