The sequencing of an album opening is a delicate art. The first song can’t be the best one, otherwise what follows will be a long anticlimax. But nor can it be the kind of straightforward track that most albums require at some point. The ideal curtainraiser should be neither filler nor killer. It should leave us wanting more.
Kelly Lee Owens’s LP.8 throws a curveball at this tricky target. The Welsh electronic musician begins her new album with “Release”, a provocative opener that’s attention-grabbing but also maddening. An electronic bassline whomps away like the rotation of a powerful motor. Meanwhile, Owens repeatedly recites the word “release” in a flat tone. Her voice sounds like it has been copied and pasted on a computer. We long for release from this monotonous place, to escape into the rest of the album. It’s a perversely effective way of whetting our appetite for the other songs.
Psychoacoustics — the way we perceive sounds — is a recurrent theme in her music. Before moving to London to pursue a music career, she worked in a nursing home and a cancer hospital. Her first album, 2017’s Kelly Lee Owens, applied ideas about the healing properties of sound to techno and ambient electronic pop. Its follow-up, 2020’s Inner Song, combined grid-like dance beats with dreamy passages of singing. “Head and heart in unison,” she chanted, as though divining a musical solution to the mind-body divide.
Both albums were acclaimed, with Inner Song winning the 2021 Welsh Music Prize. Her holism slipped into kitsch last year with the release of “Unity”, a piece of upbeat folderol commissioned as official anthem for the 2023 Fifa Women’s World Cup. But LP.8 heads in the opposite direction, towards a more elusive, experimental style.
Confusingly named, it’s her third album, not her eighth. The “8” in its title appears to refer to the infinity sign (which she has tattooed on her wrist). Its songs were made in Oslo with Lasse Marhaug, a Norwegian musician with a background in noise music. The pair’s stated aim is to imagine a musical meeting between Enya and Throbbing Gristle — a union of opposites in which floaty mysticism merges with heavy industrial beats.
“Release” traps us in machine-like repetitions. The juddering beat continues in “Voice”, but this time Owens’s vocals are expansive, a multi-layered set of wordless harmonies blossoming amid the constricting electronic bassline. “Anadlu”, meaning “to breathe” in Welsh, has swooshy cosmic synthesisers and the rhythmic sound of respiration, a celestial form of body music.
The contrast between tension and relaxation gets hazy in the middle part of the album. But focus is regained with “Quickening” in which Owens recites a quote by the choreographer Martha Graham about creativity and living in the moment over a psychedelic arrangement of bells, chants and low-frequency drones. The message is given urgency by final track “Sonic 8”, which reverts to the abrasive mode of the album’s opening. “This is a wake-up call,” Owens intones over a barrage of harsh beats: the time to act is now.
‘LP.8’ is released by Smalltown Supersound