A strong contender for my favorite album of 2017 has arrived in early spring. Kelly Lee Owens’ debut self-titled album is a refreshing, sensual, and dreamy electro album that’s a great change of pace from all the EDM and dubstep ripping through festivals every weekend and seemingly everywhere. I don’t mind those genres at all, but Ms. Owens has crafted something that stands out and finding such records in EDM and dubstep is tough nowadays.
“S.O.” sounds like something Vangelis might’ve crafted until Owens’ incense smoke-drifting-through-sunshine vocals appear. Poppy beats that sound like electric tablas root the track, but it will make you float on your feet or in your chair. “Arthur” begins with birdsong and rainfall and looped moans as the beat builds and the song becomes a beautiful mist you can feel but can’t quite see.
I think “Anxi.,” which features Jenny Hval on lead vocals, is about anxiety. Hval sings about “keeping it together” and “doing Barack badly.” Does she worry about not living up to expectations she set for herself during Obama’s presidency or ones set by others, like the family she mentions? I’m not sure. All I do know is that the bass at the halfway point of the track is so damn funky that all anxiety you might have is washed away because you’re too busy dancing.
“Lucid” is a good name for the next track, because it’s like something from a dream. “Different from the rest. Don’t you see it? Where we ought to be. Lucid, lucid,” Owens sings in some of her clearest vocals on the record. She seems to urge a potential lover to see the love she’s offering that’s right there for the taking but is going unnoticed.
“Evolution” should, by all rights, be tearing up dance floors in various remixes by now. It’s a great mix of industrial dance music, EDM, and synth-pop. “Bird” throws you for a loop by starting with a synthesized strings and tubular bells. Then, dear God, that synth-bass wallops you upside the head and you’re practically drifting around the astral plane. “Throwing Lines” continues the poppy electro beats, but the vocals are reverbed to the moon and back (which is great).
I don’t know what “Cbm” stands for, but I do know it’s a floor-stomper of a track that speaks of colors in motion – which only adds to the trippy atmosphere. “Keep Walking” reminds me of old Chemical Brothers tracks (the ones on the mellow side, at least). It’s full of deep bass, fuzzy guitar, clockwork beats, and lovely female vocals. The tenth, and final, track is called “8.” Only Owens knows why. It has nothing to do with the length of the song (9:39), but perhaps it’s a reference to infinity or a Mobius loop. The song is definitely spacey enough to justify that guess.
I don’t know where Ms. Owens has been hiding all this time, but I’m glad she’s here and has given us this album. This has to be one of the best debuts I’ve heard in a long while. All other 2017 electro albums will have to bring their A-game to match or top it.
Keep your mind open.
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