Owen Pallett - In Conflict
Released May 13, 2014
By Chelsea K. Palmer
Like many others I was eagerly awaiting a new solo album from Owen Pallett after the previous release of Heartland. Luckily, I never got sick of his older work, despite playing it over and over. Diving into the new record, I found yet another collection of songs that I will be replaying until my neighbors get annoyed.
In some ways, In Conflict picks up right where Pallett's previous aesthetic left off, yet at the same time it brings new axes of complexity into the picture. The strong buzz about his collaborators and guests on this release was well justified - The overall sound builds on his strengths while bringing in more techno-sounding synthesizers and an incredible amount of instrumental layers on most of the tracks.
In terms of production, In Conflict places the vocal tracks front and center. In his work as Final Fantasy, Pallett's voice was embedded deep in the overall tapestry, and in Heartland it seems flatly balanced with the rest of the instrumentation. In Conflict's final mix delivers its lyrics with striking clarity. Fans of Pallett's voice will appreciate its prominent placement on the album.
As the album rolls into the second track, there are bursts of atonality and quick-pitch-twisting. There's also a catchy enthusiasm in the choral refrains, making these songs danceable as well as heartfelt. The middle of the album feels like... orchestral-pop-tech-funk? Can that be a thing? Is Owen Pallett making that a thing?
Even when I expected disappointment, In Conflict wasn't about to let that happen. For example, partway through The Secret Seven, much of the music trails off, leaving only faint violin. On first listen, I started to get impatient, so brainwashed by the modern instant gratification vibe. My jaw dropped when I heard where this immediately led [no spoilers, you should go listen to it!]. I felt chastised, and decided to withhold any further assumptions about the direction of this album's forward movement. This was a good move on my part, as the album closes strong. The track The Riverbed gets surprisingly heavy: with a different vocalist, I wouldn't have even recognized this as Pallett at first. I like seeing him let go and get a little-- dare I say it?-- 'rock and roll.'
It's near the end where Briano Eno's influence seems to grow more prominent, with shades of his collaborative work with David Byrne. Additionally, Eno's voice on Infernal Fantasy called me back to Another Green World, an album I can never ever stop praising.
Overall, this album exceeded my expectations: I thought In Conflict would be a consistent replication of his past sound, and instead I heard an upward movement toward an even more nuanced and mature venture. His wealth of experience with Arcade Fire, film scores, and other projects is shining through brilliantly in his solo work.
*If you're interested in more specifics on the lyrics, instruments, and background of each song, I've consulted Alpentine [http://alpentine.com/] extensively while writing this review. This album deserves the rich contextual reading that these enthusiastic fans have made available.