Check out this great Pitchfork review by Philip Sherburne:
The Welsh singer and producer leaves her indie rock past behind and mixes dream pop and ambient techno on her immensely varied and fully-formed debut.
In electronic music, debut albums are often statements of aesthetic purpose. They are initial arguments in favor of a certain style or technique and pledges of allegiance to this or that subgenre. The debut of Welsh-born musician Kelly Lee Owensfeels more personal; not so much a way of saying, “This is what I do,” but, “This is who I am.” The 28-year-old musician grew up singing in choirs and dabbled in bass and drums. In her early 20s, she interned at XL Recordings, played in the indie rock band called the History of Apple Pie, and worked in record stores. It was there she met fellow coworkers Daniel Avery and Ghost Culture, who got her into the studio and gave her a push to put her own music out in the world. But her debut album doesn’t feel like a debut. Its songs don’t so much feel like the product of her experiences as they do some hard-to-measure leap beyond them—a message in a bottle that’s come bobbing back from somewhere in the future.
One of the big surprises is the extent to which dream pop gives the record its overarching shape, despite her tutelage with techno guys Avery and Ghost Culture, and despite the floor-filling bent of her early remix of Jenny Hval’s “Kingsize.” The first sounds on the album are strings and her own voice, beatific in its aura of breath and reverb, paired with deep sub-bass. Over ringing tabla accents and a synth melody that burbles like a water fountain shot in slo-mo, she sings of love and the meeting of minds. There are more gaps than words, lending the impression that we’re listening in on her inchoate thoughts as they assemble themselves out of nothingness. The album’s second song, “Arthur,” is a tribute to Arthur Russell, the avant-pop polymath, and while it may not sound much like his own work, her samples of running water and her echo’s wispy contrails capture his vision of music as something that could emerge from the mist, or disappear into it.
There’s no single stylistic through-line and the tempos are all over the map. “Evolution” is bleepy, minimalist techno that’s content to hang back in the shadows; “CBM,” whose title condenses the song’s looped chant of “The colors, the beauty, and the motion,” is a dreamier take on peak-time abandon, when strobe lights turn a dancefloor’s moving bodies into snapshots of a roiling sea. At the other end of the spectrum is the shimmering “Keep Walking,” which sounds like the Jesus and Mary Chain covered in balloons and glitter, or the gorgeous “Anxi.,” where Owens channels Sarah Records and Slumberland in falsetto harmonies the color and texture of milk quartz. In the song’s first section, it’s easy to imagine it as an ambient remix of Frankie Rose.
Her songs are dead simple, often consisting of just a handful of electronic instruments: one or two synth parts, three or four drum sounds, and her voice, layered and patched through endless reverb. But she keeps them engaging by frequently switching up what would seem at first to be completely linear progressions. “Keep Walking” could be three songs in one: the introductory dream-pop passage constitutes another of her impressionistic interior monologues (“City through the window/Make it our own/Run to it/Plastic cherry blossom/Eyes never close/Run to it”). Then there’s a bouncy bridge for 808, chimes, and bass synth—an understated but effective drum groove she could easily draw out for six or eight minutes if the dancefloor were full and the fog guns were firing. Finally, an outro of wordless falsetto and echoing murmurs, like an entirely benevolent siren song.
Because it centers largely around vibes, you either submit to its spell or you don’t. There’s not much to pick apart here, and formalists may find themselves grasping at straws. But in her best tracks, there is a kind of magic at work—an emotional resonance that can’t be traced back to the rudiments of technology or arrangement. In her interview with Pitchfork, Owens talked about her interest in healing frequencies, and you can hear that play out in tones that feel super-charged with energy: plucked kalimbas producing impossible-to-map overtones, bass fifths that seem to make your entire body vibrate. The closing song, “8,” deploys a slowly oscillating sitar, for Westerners long an icon of spiritual music, as the launchpad for a 10-minute meditation on breath, rhythm, and drone. Whatever actual healing powers she may be channeling probably depends upon the patient; nevertheless, Kelly Lee Owens presents an artist with an unusually focused vision of what music is capable of.