Kelly Lee Owens has long been a master at crafting beautifully-textured yet banging techno-pop but with ‘Inner Song’ – her long-awaited COVID-delayed follow-up to 2017’s brilliant self-titled debut – the Welsh singer, producer, songwriter and former nurse is particularly gutting. Inspired by “the hardest three years of my life”, Owens channels loss and grief into raw and evocative compositions – its resonance to many in 2020 only increases the emotional burden these songs carry.
Opener ‘Arpeggi’, a gradually-building instrumental Radiohead cover – about “being brought back to the surface from a dark place” – acts as a sonic rebirth. Followed by ‘On’, a near-choral crying-on-the-dancefloor glimmer that lays bare the pain of a relationship ending. But, as the beat intensifies halfway, Owens’ internal melancholy becomes masked by pulsing techno production; it’s almost like she’s wiping away the tears, slowly coming to terms with loss.
Nowhere is this truer than on the album’s emotional centrepiece ‘Jeanette’ – in homage to her “absolute legend” nan, it’s a fittingly uplifting celebration of her life. And it’s this journey of acceptance and reconnecting with the self that permeates ‘Inner Song’. Owens’ comforting repeated whispers of “it feels so good to be alone” on ‘Night’ is the sonic equivalent of a calming hug, while ‘Re-Wild’ is a trippy fusion of swirling synths, dream-state empowerment and confidence-rebuilding; “free yourself with the truth, that’s already in you,” she instructs.
Elsewhere, Owens draws on the climate crisis and her love of nature: incorporating samples of melting glaciers and people literally skating on ice, ‘Melt!’ is a call for action, her clipped vocal disappearing into the distance. ‘Corner Of My Sky’, a collaboration with Owens’ homeland hero, the Welsh artist and former Velvet Underground member John Cale, tells the story of the land where they grew up via spoken-word, poetry and song. Carrying a cinematic atmosphere, it paints a vivid picture of why we should appreciate the natural world’s intricacies.
The poignantly instructive repetition of polysemic lullaby-like closer ‘Wake-Up’ stretches this idea, pondering the importance of stopping for a moment: “losing our minds for the short-term gain, short term everything; never pausing to take it in, always avoiding your sense of dread,” Owens sings, her timely lyrics documenting how easy it is to lose touch with what really matters in life.
By allowing her songs to breathe, leaving space for contemplation, ‘Inner Song’ is a perfectly-arranged album where each track has a part to play: an emotive-yet-euphoric collection that’s made for late-night reflection, Kelly Lee Owens has made one of the most beautiful records of the year.
- Release date: August 28
- Record label: Smalltown Supersound