Ambience is not a quality generally associated with techno. Yet, Welsh producer Kelly Lee Owens has been steadily unearthing the latent warmth of the genre since self-releasing her debut single ‘Lucid’ in 2015. Combining the atmospherics of hazy synth-lines and subaqueous vocals with a charged rhythmic pulse that readies her tracks for the club, she has carved a unique space for herself in the electronic field, making tracks that are just as at home on the dance floor as well as in your headphones.
Having moved from her native Wales to London, via Manchester, Owens developed her eclectic musical tastes and production skills while working in record stores, including Rough Trade and Pure Groove where she met Daniel Avery. It was Avery, along with fellow colleague and producer Ghost Culture, who showed Owens the production ropes, leading to her vocal feature on Avery’s track ‘Knowing We’ll Be Here’, taken from his acclaimed 2013 release ‘Drone Logic’. Since then, Owens has been fine-tuning her sound and expanding her sonic palette, releasing the ‘Oleic’ EP last year on the Norwegian label, Smalltown Supersound, and this month dropping her debut full-length ‘Kelly Lee Owens’.
The clarity of Owens’ falsetto is immediately apparent from opening track ‘S.O’, as well as her inventive use of sound to generate atmosphere and emotion. Her minimal lyrics float effortlessly over the bent bass frequencies of a tabla, while electro synths pierce and reverberate around the chorus to ultimately fade into what sounds like rain and a galloping heartbeat.
This combination of the natural and synthetic/electronic runs throughout the record, consistently balancing an analogue softness with the pleasingly harsh thump of a kick drum or distorted reverb of a synth, creating ambiguity as to the origins of the wide range of sounds displayed on the record. On the following track, ‘Arthur’, an homage to Arthur Russell, Owens manipulates her own voice to this effect. Using her breath and vocal as an instrument to create a melodic soundscape, rather than communicate lyrics, she adds a soothing high-end to the rumbling bass-frequencies that mirror ‘S.O’ throughout.
The majority of the record is refreshingly downtempo, lulling the listener into Owens’ meditative sound-baths on the opening of tracks like ‘Bird’ and ‘Lucid’. It’s this capacity to evoke the feeling of waking from a dream that Owens is so adept at putting to music, her ethereal vocal delivery a consistent presence whilst her rhythms build to an unexpected and satisfying crescendo. In the more straight-forwardly up-tempo tracks such as ‘Evolution’ and ‘C.B.M’, Daniel Avery’s influence on Owens’ sound can be clearly felt in the acid stabs and rumbling basslines, bringing to mind his own productions ‘Water Jump’ and ‘Free Floating’. These similarities could seem plagiaristic to some, yet Owens comes into her own as she adds the potential for comfort amongst the inky hues of her production, whereas Avery’s tracks remain hardened and austere.
Final tracks ‘Keep Walking’ and ‘8’ are a gentle dissolution of the record’s sound-palette into the droning atmospherics of sitars, breathy falsettos and sub-frequencies. Owens’ attraction to the emotive potential of sound is a theme that perhaps runs up against the Daniel Avery influences on the record, yet she has still produced a debut that is full of depth and one that exposes the scope of electronic music beyond just the club.
Words: Ammar Kalia
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