Kelly Lee Owens's Voice Cuts Through the Commotion on 'LP.8'
Published Apr 28, 2022"This is an emergency. This is a wake-up call," Kelly Lee Owens declares calmly on LP.8 over harsh industrial noise amid frantic, phantasmal flitters of her own voice. "Divide. Divide. Divide and conquer." The voices are gasping, anxious. "I'm tired. You're tired." The punishing sonics keep coming, the sentiment familiar. "We want to be free. Together. None of us are free unless all of us are free. I've been feeling for a long time now that something's wrong, deeply wrong." It's crushing, repeating. "Divide. Divide." … "This is an emergency."
When Owens took a flight from London to Oslo in 2020, little did she know how long that trip would be. The momentum of 2020's acclaimed Inner Song had been halted by closed borders and cancelled tours as the world shifted into a different state. Yet Owens's creativity lay ready and awake. It was in Oslo where the Welsh musician and producer began working in the studio with prolific avant noise artist Lasse Marhaug, imagining something between Enya and Throbbing Gristle, resulting in an album that feels borne of its circumstances, confrontational yet meditative, unrestrained and of the spirit.
In one of Marhaug's previous collaborations with cellist Okkyung Lee, they travelled around together – the latter performing improvisations, the former recording. Lee entrusted Marhaug to edit the source material without hearing it first, and has described his technique as expressionistic. While a different project with different collaborators, it's easy to imagine how Marhaug may have taken a similar approach to LP.8, with its unconventional structures, juxtapositions of harshness and beauty, and Owens's personal proclamations and euphonic melodies possibly paralleling emotional and psychological states.
LP.8 is largely experimental in scope, with pounding, creeping industrial and noise effects as the destabilizing foundation for ethereal synths and spoken, spectral vocals. The beats can resemble a swarm of mechanical critters or many tiny jackhammers going at once, possibly mimicking intrusive thoughts. In addition to her often-direct lyrics, Owens is known to give sounds symbolism and process field recordings to contribute to this. There's a symbiosis in LP.8's entwined elements that implies more complex layers of meaning.
"Quickening" opens with struck bells amongst cavernous groaning drone, static patches and clipped vocals skipping in the distance, feeling akin to some of Pan Daijing's eerie post-industrial. Owens, coming through clear, is haunted by ghosts. She speaks of the "Quickening," a vitality and energy that seems to be about maintaining creative trueness and keeping the "channel open," and the ensuing chants and instrumentals follow suit.
Opening with birdsong, "Nana Piano" stands apart in production, presence and warmth. Owens has spoken about how important her Nana is to her, and the intimate home recording is a beautiful tribute. The album's only fully instrumental piece has an aura of unspoken emotion. It's pensive, loving and lighthearted. With the birds singing throughout, you can almost feel the sun shining in. Even without lyrics, it's the most emotive track, the vulnerable heart pumping blood to LP.8's throbbing veins.
And those veins do throb. "Release" builds off continuous crackling textures and hammering bass. Owens repeats "release" like an incantation as her own voice whispers, "move" – the song's jarring character an urge to give in to its title. In "Voice," demolition bass and gambolling rhythms are the haunting ground for Owens's apparitions. "Anadlu," a Welsh word related to "breathing," is the longest cut, with an otherworldly essence similar to Jon Hopkins' Music for Psychedelic Therapy if his expedition was experiencing constant eruptions from deep beneath the cave floor. Throughout LP.8, Owens's voice is a guiding light on tracks like "Anadlu" and "S.O (2)," — the latter a ticking, thrumming, yet no less dreamy rendition of her 2017 debut's opener — offering admonitions of divides and emergencies on closer "Sonic 8."
LP.8's unifying theme lies in its title. Owens ended her debut with a song called "8," and spoke of how significant this outlier, her third album, is to her. She was born in the eighth month of 1988, and 8 is the sign of infinity which feels like a represented force on the album in its repetitions, boundless aspiration and unstable yet interconnected elements embedded with mystical purpose.
With lyrics that are minimal and often delivered measured and mantra-like, LP.8 is hypnotic, introspectively abstract, and while some may find it too left-field, or lacking her more club-leaning tracks, it's not intended to follow in those footsteps. LP.8 creatively explores Owens's inner life while being inextricably tied to the current age. "This is an emergency. This is a wake-up call." Hearing you loud and clear. (Smalltown Supersound)