A beguiling mix of songcraft and techno from the Welsh artist.
With Inner Song, Owens addresses an abusive relationship in strikingly plain language. On "L.I.N.E." she sings, "Love is not enough to stay/I'd rather be on my own." "On," the album's second track (following a wonderful synth-driven take on Radiohead's "Arpeggi"), deals with similar themes; "So this is how it just go, and now I am moving on." Refusing to be defined by a past relationship, in a recent interview with The Fader, Owens stated that it's "too simplistic" to call Inner Song a breakup record. "The breakup was one element," she said. Indeed, the LP addresses a broad array of tip-of-the-tongue topics, like climate change and social media.
The balance between Kelly Lee Owens the techno DJ and KLO the pop songwriter falls into perfect ratio on cuts like the aforementioned "On," which moves from bittersweet techno-pop into a dark room-ready breakdown. "Night," meanwhile, undergirds a soaring chorus with a heavy kick. On Inner Song, the hooks on Owens' pop songs are more memorable, while her trackier efforts bang harder. But other efforts, like "Melt!", an arpeggiated techno cut that ostensibly addresses climate change through glacier samples and a handful of vague lyrics, feel half-baked in comparison. Not that you'd notice at 4 AM.
Artists can, and have, written entire records about climate change and the perils of social media (as addressed on the closing track, "Wake Up!), but at times Inner Song's scattered subject matter feels thematically disorienting. Owens said she frequently jots down her thoughts into countless journals, then compiles the best bits into a "giant notepad" before writing an album of lyrics. Perhaps it's down to this process that the LP feels like a snapshot of diffuse thoughts from the years since her breakthrough debut. Fellow Welsh master John Cale opts for a less direct approach on album highlight "Corner Of My Sky," describing the moon, fish, foxes and miners holed away in their respective places, before a sorrowful, minimalist chorus, "The rain, the rain, the rain." These simple, evocative descriptions feel refreshing juxtaposed with Owens' literalism.
Nevertheless, that tune would thrill both Owens fans and John Cale fans, standing along either artist's best work, which is saying a lot. Inner Song's highs are very high. Beyond the bang-on production, the LP feels like as much of a journey for the listener as it does the protagonist. We're invited to take a trip with Owens, to stare into her eyes, into the inner struggle and eventual triumph over adversity, towards a wild independence. As she sings on the closing track, "It feels so good to be alone with you. Here with you."