Subdued and cerebral house record from budding electronic star
When electronic music entered the mainstream in the ’70s and ’80s, dance floors filled with fans of new, groundbreaking genres, from disco to krautrock to EDM. But in 2020, people are now retreating to the solitude of their bedrooms to enjoy the genre that’s graced clubs and top 40 radio for decades.
Welsh singer and producer Kelly Lee Owens favors this swath of the electronic diaspora, the heady, cerebral kind that can make you think as much as it makes one dance. Known for the dreamy, techno pop sound featured on her critically acclaimed self-titled debut release, Owens is back with the lonesome, introspective Inner Song, a record that finds itself at the happy medium of several extremes: house and ambience, warmth and iciness, peace and disruption.
Inner Song harkens back to Owens’ childhood. Growing up in rural Wales, she spent much of her time writing poetry in the solitude of nature, and that’s reflected in Inner Song’s emphasis on cyclical, uncomplicated beats over which Owens’ feathery vocals sit pensively. The compositions are thoughtful and variable, with plenty of nuance incorporated into each synthesizer loop or drum machine repetition.
Opener “Arpeggi” does a great job of setting the record’s tone. Covering the track “Weird Fishes/ Arpeggi” by lauded alt-rockers Radiohead, Owens takes a warm, inviting guitar melody and morphs it into a cold, synthesized mix of bubbling beeps and tones. The track closes with a bit of IDM, as a glitchy beat enters and teleports the listener into Owens’ world of lonesome house.
The track “On” introduces Owens’ delicate vocals over a stuttering, understated beat. The tune has some lovely color owing to somber tones and a bone-rattling sub bass, and these combined with glitchy beeps and tones make for an intense techno track. Gliding, rounded tones and a pumping beat take the track to its conclusion, fittingly for a song with lyrics about moving on and forwards.
Not every track on Inner Song is as cerebral. Tracks like “Melt!” and “Jeanette” are more straightforward house bangers, providing some respite from the album’s relentless introspection, but by and large, this is a record that’ll work people’s brain more than one’s body. “Re-Wild” is a woozy, sultry track with shades of R&B coming from its rounded bass tones and lethargic synths, while the song “L.I.N.E.”–standing for Love Is Not Enough–is a dreamy stew of computerized sounds, gently ebbing and flowing with its chorus of strings.
Perhaps the most pivotal track on Inner Song is the seven-minute odyssey “Corner Of My Sky,” which sounds like a more primitive version of an LCD Soundsystem song. Distorted toms and swelling synths form the foundation of a barebones beat, over which featured vocalist and fellow Welshman John Cale’s rustic spoken word spins the tale of he and Owens’ homeland. The words and the music exist in unison, swelling and retreating together in a wonky symphony over the course of the tune.
The progressive house track “Night” follows, and if listeners didn’t comprehend Inner Song’s message beforehand, they will now. “It feels so good to be alone,” Owens vocalizes repeatedly as the track builds around a light beat and a stuttering bass. After that comes “Flow,” with its swirling synthesizers, grainy, distorted beeps and powerful sub bass combining for an elegant yet energetic sound.
Finally comes the closer “Wake-Up,” which doesn’t disappoint sonically or thematically. The track rehashes messages about the cyclical nature of life, as Owens sings “Wake up, repeat again, again” into the void, challenging the idea that nature and human existence are infinitely dynamic. The mix itself is gorgeous, featuring shimmering strings, melancholy synth chords and light percussion that create an undeniable feeling of longing.
Inner Song is a tribute to the loner in everyone. Through a batch of loop-heavy tracks, Owens conveys an overarching sense of solitude and allows the listener to explore that feeling in each song. She guides the listener through each song with ease, throwing out the conventions of electronic music in favor of a cerebral journey through a computerized stew of glitchy, elegant beats.