Movement is a defining quality of Kelly Lee Owens‘ music. A producer who navigates the worlds of house and techno via subtly progressive compositions, Owens creates music that thrives on resolution. There’s almost a sort of narrative arc to the way much of her compositions build, rise and achieve transcendent climax, rarely in bombastic ways but always in gripping fashion. Regardless of where they begin, they always undergo a journey of sorts, the beats that drive her music providing a means of conveyance toward some inevitable if unknown height. That, and it’s simply great dance music.
LP.8 upends Owens’ signature approach somewhat, a record built not on the momentum and direction so much as contrasting ideas of repetition and stillness. Recorded with Lasse Marhaug, a noise artist and producer who has worked with the likes of Sunn O))) and Merzbow, LP.8 was born of the icy chill of winter in Oslo during pandemic lockdown, its curious juxtaposition of ambiance and aggression a reflection of the times. Supposedly inspired by the likes of both Enya and Throbbing Gristle—an unlikely pairing if an intriguing one—the album represents some of Owens’ gentlest and most jarring music alike.
Owens frontloads the album with some of its harshest material, the sounds of hissing industrial beats in repetition on “Release” as she slowly introduces more elements: booming bass throb, Owens repeating the title, and the sounds of exhalation. It’s tense, uncomfortable, a moment of anxiety that stands in stark contrast to what is, in large part, a more meditative body of compositions. With each subsequent track that she introduces, Owens lets off the tension a bit, slowing down her approach on the contrast of meditation and menace on “Voice,” delivering an extended gorgeous soundscape on “Anadlu,” delivering a callback to her debut on the beautiful centerpiece “S.O (2)” and eventually rising back up into a harrowing cycle of static and doom on the remarkable closer “Sonic 8.”
While Owens’ embrace of thorny and amorphous textures on LP.8 seems uncharacteristic when compared to her more accessible previous two albums, it feels connected to them regardless. It feels like an act of stripping things away rather than building them up—it’s easy to hear this as the end product of taking a set of songs like those on her debut and removing pieces from them until what’s left is a cold and sparse open space where only a few key elements remain. With few exceptions, these aren’t harsh pieces but rather anxious ones, showcasing a tug-of-war between internalized discomfort and a need to break out of it. It’s both therapy and the impetus for seeking therapy all in one set of music, a loop from darkness into light and then back again. It’s not always purely enjoyable, where albums like 2020’s Inner Song are, but it showcases aspects of Owens’ music that might have only been mere shadows or suggestions before. Here, given a proper showcase, they still offer some form of direction even in their stillness, opening up avenues to explore beyond the horizon.
Label: Smalltown Supersound
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.