May 27, 2014 Issue #50 - June/July 2014 - Future Islands
Owen Pallett has had a good year—he helped Arcade Fire compose the score to the film Her, and he's embarked with the band on a globe-trotting arena tour for Reflektor. That output would be extraordinary enough, but somewhere along the line he's found the time to record a brand new album, In Conflict, his first since 2010's excellent Heartland.
Pallett's solo work is always a bit difficult to parse. He's clearly an accomplished composer, and his string arrangements in particular build and pulse like few other artists (which is probably why so many artists hire him for their albums). But sometimes, instrumental fussiness can get in the way of the music. He Poos Clouds (2006) was a fine album, but occasionally suffered from overly complicated music that obscured the wry humor in Pallett's music. Heartland corrected much of this, adding danceable electronic textures and triumphant buildups to the Pallett formula.
In Conflict treads somewhere between the two albums. While electronic sounds bubble under the surface in songs like "Song for Five & Six" and "In Conflict" (and they completely drive "Infernal Fantasy"), much of the music is driven by strings. This is mostly successful—the mournful "The Passions" is a lovely, strange love song with sweeping strings that belie the maybe-ominous-maybe-wonderful lyrics. On the other hand, "On a Path" feels a little flat and overdone.
Pallett has always specialized in darkly funny lyrics, and In Conflict is no exception. In early press materials, Pallett said the album "is meant to approach 'insanity' in a positive way." And in many ways, that's true—Pallett's carefully constructed pop songs stand in stark contrast to the broken characters inside, who struggle with various types of mental illness, the difficulties of 21st century love and trying to figure out how to be the best version of themselves. It's sometimes funny, sometimes uplifting, sometimes sad but always surprising.
In Conflict doesn't find Owen Pallett breaking new ground, but that might not matter. He's still bringing his exacting ear to perfect arrangement (sometimes a little overly so), along with a unique lyrical outlook—and for the most part, In Conflict balances the two. (www.owenpalletteternal.com)
Author rating: 7.5/10
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