Happy New Year to everyone – here’s hoping 2018 brings as much good new music as last year!
First, check out the television debut of Julien Baker on Colbert this week. I featured her several weeks back in an email. Incredibly intimate and moving performance by her on a national stage – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gbsXT_Bkl0Q
Second, I’m still listening to a ton of new releases from last year – some that would now make my best of 2017 list (including the artist featured this week). There’s so much music and so little time…
It’s still slow for new releases but two notable albums out this week – indie/punk/pop artist Jeff Rosenstock did a surprise release on New Year’s with “POST-“ (I featured his previous album at the beginning of last year) and black metal rockers Watain have unleashed “TRIDENT WOLF ECLIPSE” to the masses today.
This week I’m featuring an album I just got around listening to last week that would have definitely been on my list of best electronic albums last year, if not at the top of the list. Kelly Lee Owens released her S/T debut album back in March. I saw her name popping up on some “best of 2017” lists and I eventually got around to listening to her album. I would describe her music as intimate atmospheric techno electronic dream pop (I know that’s a mouthful). Her vocals are very interesting – they fit very well with her music and sound great throughout. Sometimes they are used almost more as another instrument, but there are also tracks that are more lyrically focused. This is an album that must be listened to with good headphones or speakers – her sounds create a mood and atmosphere – some of the sounds are almost tactile in nature – so it’s imperative you can properly hear all the details. I listened to this album on a small Bluetooth speaker at one point and it just doesn’t work at all that way. But if you can plug into some good headphones or speakers you will be more than pleasantly surprised. Another thing I love about this album is it works great in the background, as well as with more detailed listening. It also doesn’t hurt that I’m currently reading “1Q84” by Haruki Murakami and this album is perfect background music for that book (on a different note, I’m heavily impressed by Murakami’s writing so if you haven’t read any of his books definitely check him out).
Owens was born in Wales and currently resides in London. She was an intern at XL Recordings, played bass in a band and worked at a number of record shops, allowing her to soak up many influences and meet some other musicians and industry contacts. She met Daniel Avery working at one store, who used Owens’ vocals on an EP and on several tracks on his follow-up LP, co-writing one song with her. Owens self-released her first single as a solo artist in 2015. This led to several more singles, some work with Jenny Hval, and then an EP in 2016. As mentioned previously, Owens released her debut S/T album in March 2017. She has received plenty of critical acclaim, showing up on many “best of 2017” lists, mostly for electronic albums but also just in general Top 50 album lists. Her music is a little difficult to describe, and even within the same song Owens will sometimes mix up tempos/styles. What stands out for me is the mood, sound and atmosphere her music provides. For a debut album, she has produced a very accomplished album. I’m eager to see what Kelly Lee Owens is able to produce going forward, given how accomplished her starting point is. Below are a few tracks to check out, but I suggest listening through her entire album (also linked below).
“Evolution” – This track starts out with some rumbly bouncy beats and then a faster metronome kicks in. Owens repeats “evolution” alternating between a hard and soft “e”. Then the bass drops in about 50 seconds in, taking the track to a new level. Owens effectively uses “drop” moments with the heavy bass at several points during the song. Her vocals change from spoken, to singing, to whispering – all with great effect. She also does a masterful job mixing in all of the different rhythms on this track. All of these nuances are lost though, if you’re listening to the music with a cheap speaker. You need to feel the music.
“Bird” – “Evolution” precedes “Bird” on the album. On this track, Owens doesn’t provide any vocals. Instead she deftly mixes in a number of sounds and rhythms to create a cohesive whole. The beginning is a mix of strings, a xylophone-esque sound and the beats which eventually morph into a big bass drone about 1:45 into the song. At that point, Owens just mixes the different sound elements in and out of the song. About 3 minutes in she changes up the beats and brings in some different sounds before bringing it all back around again for the final minute.
“Keep Walking” – Here’s a track that features more lyrical vocals by Owens so you can get a better feel for her vocals. This song almost pulsates with soundwaves as it swirls inside your head. Owens ethereal vocals match perfectly with the music on this track. Again, you must listen to this track with good headphones/speakers or you will not “hear” everything that is going on in this track.