Album Review: Kelly Lee Owens – LP.8

[Smalltown Supersound; 2022]

If space has sound then Kelly Lee Owens has sampled and looped it on her latest album, LP.8. Partnering this time with avant-noise artiste Lasse Marhaug (known for his work with Merzbow, Sunn O))) and Jenny Hval), the record is about opposition: it haunts but soothes, it repels while drawing you in. As you listen, this unbridled exploration of sound will become part of your own dialectic subconscious rather than a soundtrack on your dancefloor. You have to listen. 

A departure from what we know of Owens, LP.8 is brave. After her world tour was canceled due to the pandemic, she secreted herself to a snowglobe in Oslo where she created what she calls an outlier, her “eighth album.” In Owens’ words, “For me, 8 meant completion – an album that will ripple infinitely with me personally.” 

The opener, “Release”, vacuums her quick inhalations through a black hole pattern of knocks. Her repeated whispers of “release” emerge from the pinball-paddle rhythm. This industrial bent dominates the album, resulting in something just monotonous enough to hypnotize the fear of her sonics out of your head. 

Owens’ diaphanous vocals in tracks like “Voice”, “Anadlu”, “Olga” and “One” offer relief from a heavy and sometimes offending racket of the more assaultive tracks. In these softer moments, you find yourself resting in a bed of sonics, deep breaths guiding your meditation through tinkling loops. “Nana Piano” is just that: you sit next to her on the bench at her grandmother’s gently out-of-tune piano, feeling its amorphous vibrations. The chirping birds and tantric chants of “S.O (2)” lead you through the synthetic forest of her practice.

Then she cracks you in the head and anti-seduces with tracks like the unsettling “Quickening” and the doom-mongering “Sonic 8”, interrupting your peace like that narcissistic lover that you can’t seem to get over. 

In this way, the experience of LP.8 is visceral, spiritual and emotional; calming and introspective, brutal and challenging.

Her contrasting textures – aggressive, pounding, relentless beats interwoven with floating, psychedelic, trance-inducing vocal loops – can feel like an evening of performance art. One moment you’re in a factory of thumping drums and punishing industrial synths, the next you’re at the spa soaking in the bath of dreamy pads and meditative voices. Think Front Line Assembly doing yoga while watching Blade Runner with Yoko Ono. 

It isn’t hard to imagine the monotony of recording in isolation with only a partner or two, especially as the droning repetitiveness of each song lets you intrude into that creative anima. Hubble describes the history of space as that of a “receding horizon,”  so too is Kelly Lee Owens’ own biography of continual reinventions; the continual move away from her prior selves. We should be thankful to be able to join her on the ride for LP.8