After moving to London from her native North Wales, Kelly Lee Owens interned at XL Records and worked at trendy record shops across the city. A few years ago, she began contributing vocals to friend’s releases before moving on to creating her tracks as well as a Jenny Hval remix for “Kingsize”. Already in 2017 Owens snagged our coveted favourite song of the week spot a few months ago for “Anxi.”(!!) and the full self-titled album does not disappoint.
Owens eases into the album with two minimal ambient tracks before the cold wave intro of single “Anxi.”, featuring Jenny Hval on vocals, ups the BPM. There is a hands in the air moment when the beat on “Evolution” kicks in at the 49 second mark while “Cbm” is just a step behind in terms of getting people moving. The ghostly vocal of “Lucid” gives the track an icy ethereal quality.
The atmospheric album closers “Keep Walking” and “8” have enough of a pop feel that could qualify Owens as a more techno version of Grimes. Like Grimes, this debut touches on numerous styles (techno, ambient, pop, indie rock, etc) and excels in nearly all of them. An electronic album that crosses over to the indie rock world, this is one of the highlights of the first half of 2017.
My relationship with singer James Mercer has been an off/on again one. I sat way at the back and talked with mates through The Shins set at the Austin City Limits Festival in 2006. I really liked Wincing the Night Away, missed the first Broken Bells album, wasn’t too fussed about the second, and never got around to checking out Port of Morrow. However, I did jump on Heartworms a few months ago, ignoring the horrendous cover artwork but really enjoying this press shot. In general it was a good decision, with a few reservations.
Self-produced by Mercer, the album jumps from style to style and often comes as a cross between the amped up pop of Weezer with the nostalgic lyrics of the recent Magnetic Fields album. The charming folk of “Mildenhall” looks back at discovering new music while living in the UK as a teenager. “Rubber Ballz” and “Fantasy Island” have similar nostalgic stories but of love at a young age.
Lead track “Name For You” has the most memorable hooks but is followed up with the darker “Painting a Hole” and therein lies the biggest knock on Heartworms. The multiple styles can be jarring at times and the lyrics are not always as deep as the ocean. A few of the tracks will surely end up as regulars in concert and appear on a greatest hits compilation someday, like the quite beautiful “So Now What”, while a handful of others really never need to be heard again.