Album Review: Kelly Lee Owens, ‘LP.8’

In a passage from ‘Quickening’, the seventh track off Welsh nurse-turned-indie-rock-bassist-turned-electronic-producer Kelly Lee Owens’ new album LP.8, she speaks over a soundscape of hushed whispers and electric crackling. “Because there is only one of you in your time, this expression is unique,” she articulates. “And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. It’s not your business to determine how good it is or how valuable or how it compares to others’ expressions. Your business is to keep it yours.” LP.8 explores a relationship between the self and artistic creation: a bold testimony in favour of independence and the potential it unlocks. Recorded over a short stint in Oslo, the album is the third record in Owens’ discography, following 2020’s Inner Song. And yet, she describes it as her eighth. For Owens, LP.8 is a leap forward across her artistic trajectory. It’s a rejection of linearity and a gesture embodying self-sufficiency. By subverting chronology, she seizes the reins of her art, pushing boundaries and blurring the distinction between herself and her body of work.

Born from a collaboration with Norwegian noise artist Lasse Marhaug, LP.8 begins in industrial rumbling. The core of ‘Release’, the first track, is a throbbing kick, an unrelenting and unchanging pounding that drowns the song in distorted bass. LP.8’s opening immediately marks a departure. Owens’ first two albums oozed with introspection conveyed over lush synths and danceable rhythms; her sounds suited both niche rave venues and crowded festivals alike. LP.8’s introductory eruption of harsh industrial sound ushers in a re-invention of Owens’ music. Yet it’s not pure violence. Mixed amongst the distortion, Owens’ voice repeats the word “release”. The word becomes part of the beat as a rhythmic element rather than a melodic one. The utterance of “release” denotes a catharsis: an opening up. She challenges us to find release through constrained and intense sounds.

Rumbly kicks continue through the tracklist into ‘Anadlu’, an ethereal, eight-minute song otherwise texturally opposed to everything in ‘Release’. It’s slow, with glimmering synth pads. Its lush gentleness is punctuated by the booming, delay-heavy kick. Owens’ voice sits between these two dissonant elements. Like with ‘Release’, Owens fixates on a single word. Here, it’s anadlu (Welsh for “to breathe”). She utters it with different tones – sometimes soothingly, other times with urgency – feeling out its syllables. Structurally, ‘Anadlu’ resembles ‘Release’. Both tracks are anchored by booming kicks and single-word vocal tracks. The textural details, however, distinguish them as radically distinct songs with polarised energies.

On ‘S.O 2’, Owens delves deeper into ambient depths. The song’s a re-imaging of ‘S.O’, the first track off Owens’ self-titled debut album. ‘S.O’ was a delicate tech house tune, with a grooving bassline. In ‘S.O 2’, Owens strips down the elements into a glacial ocean of synths. All drums and bass are abandoned and the melody becomes an airy, slowed-down whisper. The song transposes a track from her first album onto her new album, which is both her third and eighth. As such, LP.8 offers Owens an opportunity to re-write her body of work, claiming chronology as a product of her own agency.

As it moves forward, the album becomes even more stripped-back. On ‘Nana Piano’, Owens offers a minimalist piano piece. It’s a jarring turn away from the industrial pounding which characterises LP.8’s earliest moments. Yet at the end, everything comes full circle. On ‘Sonic 8’, Owens concludes LP.8 with a blistering howl of industrial noise. She repeats the phrase “this is an emergency,” ending everything on a note of desperation.

As a whole, the album is a disjointed hodgepodge of eclectic sounds and ideas which bounce off each other as much as they coalesce. Yet there’s a confidence in Owens’ work, revelling in its messiness. In its inconsistencies, LP.8 breathes like a living being: imperfect, inconsistent, always in flux. Despite the industrial noises which often populate the album, Owens’ music feels almost biological: a vivid self-portrait through sound. LP.8 suggests it’s not just an artist’s right to contain multitudes, to be incoherent, personal, esoteric, abrasive, or impulsive. It’s an imperative.

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