Originally slated for release back at the beginning of May, producer/songwriter Kelly Lee Owens chose to delay her sophomore full-length in lieu of the ever-growing concerns around COVID-19.
Now almost four months later, Owens officially caps off the summer with the revelatory follow-up to her self-titled debut, Inner Song. Touching on similar moments of techno-rich pop that made her debut so celebrated, Owens leads here with her most dynamically-expansive music yet. With experimental touches of R&B and even a guest appearance from the Velvet Underground’s John Cale, Owens continues to build a reputation all her own, but one directly framed around powerful change and self-discovery.
The best example of where Owens was heading, came in “Luminous Spaces”, her track with John Hopkins from the tail-end of last year. With its soaring, bustling rhythm, it showcased the marriage of two of today’s most vital figures in the world of electronic music and in continuing to execute a sprawling patchwork of sound, Owens remains tactfully aware of not only where to drive her tracks, but confident enough to let them fall where they land.
While a risky approach, Owens achieves her mark rather seamlessly. But as she’s quick to expand into different avenues of sound, she’s aware, too, to hang onto the moments that find us lost in the club. The end of February saw first single, “Melt!,” a cascading, beat-fueled cut inspired by the dire realities surrounding climate change. To stamp her message further, Owens goes as far as using samples of melting glaciers and people skating on ice as subtle ways to remind us that this crisis is constant. Songs like “Re-Wild” and “L.I.N.E.” lean into a more elegant side of writing while “Corner of My Sky” drives the idea of one’s connectedness to their roots. Cale’s command of Welsh and English narrative envelop the song in swirling reverie while Owens anchors the track with a variety of slow-moving electronics. It’s by far the album’s most enthralling moment, as well as Owens at her most ambitious.
Inner Song easily positions Owens ahead of the curve and it’s not so much a calculated attempt to separate herself from the norm as it is her precision and genuine dedication as an artist. While more subdued on her debut, her output here is upfront and shining. We hear this on the phenomenal single, “On,” where Owens stretches her range into spectacular areas. Even so, as Owens hits her stride as a gifted vocalist, she matches that talent with a scattering of equally aspiring instrumental cuts. Songs like “Jeanette” scurry with upbeat, bright electronics, while tracks like “Flow” differ strikingly, holding dark and cryptic textures.
Despite its postponement, Inner Song couldn’t have come at a better time. Tied into a year fraught with emotional distress from the devastation of a deadly pandemic atop countless acts of injustice, Inner Song has unofficially taken on a role that functions beautifully as an album to commiserate to.
It’s hard not to lavish Owens with praise here, but atop Inner Song’s exceptional track list and an underlying message based around acceptance and healing, Owens uses those experiences to expand into a wider array of exploration and storytelling. Its end result not only shapes our perception as listeners, but we’re also reminded that aside from an accomplished musician, Owens remains a significant force.