Release Date: May 27, 2014
Record label: Domino
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Singer/Songwriter
The second studio album to be released under his own name, Owen Pallett's In Conflict, despite its antagonistic title, sounds like the culmination of all of his previous guises (Final Fantasy, Arcade Fire string arranger, Oscar-nominated co-writer of the score to 2013's Her), and while it may peer into the abyss (at least thematically), it's as cathartic and engaging a collection of songs as he's committed himself to thus far. Recorded in Montreal by engineer and producer Mark Lawson, In Conflict's 13 tracks exist, sonically, somewhere in between the sugary opulence of Kishi Bashi and Jónsi and the chilly refinement of Homogenic-era Björk, with the latter providing the most noticeable trail of crumbs, due in large part to the tasteful use of the Czech FILMharmonic Orchestra and the steady presence of Brian Eno, who lends his considerable chops on synth and guitar (he also sings on much of the album) to the production. Pallett's signature blend of classical-minded chamber rock and fractured ambient-electro-pop has never sounded so accessible as it does on cuts like the sumptuous opener "I Am Not Afraid," the appropriately loose and rambling "On a Path," and the icy, Kraftwerk-meets-Ultravox pulse of "Song for Five & Six.
In Conflict is the fourth full length from Canadian multi-instrumentalist and violin maestro Owen Pallett. Starting his solo career in 2005 under the now retired Final Fantasy moniker, Pallett has released a succession of profound and illustriously composed singer-songwriter/baroque pop records that remain completely singular in their sound and appeal, even if he's only tasted commercial success as an arranger for others. His music has long crossed a fine line between pop and contemporary classical but with In Conflict, the former is certainly further to the fore.
How do you talk yourself down from high fantasy? How do you decide to exit a world in which peasant farmers duel cockatrices in favor of one where the minutia of life takes hold? Owen Pallett used to veil his songs in characters and scenarios imported from an alternate universe’s folklore. On In Conflict, for the first time, he’s singing directly about himself. The second album under his birth name after 2010’s Heartland, In Conflict stars a plain English Pallett, a protagonist stuck navigating the labyrinths in his own head.
It’s been four years since Owen Pallett’s last full length release, a torturous wait for fans of his 2010 album Heartland or indeed his work under the name Final Fantasy which preceded it. The delay is understandable. Owen Pallett is much much more than just a solo performer. In the intervening period, the Canadian violinist and composer has worked on string scores for The National, Alex Turner, R.E.M and Arcade Fire (to name but a few) and has scored films including Spike Jonze’s latest Her in collaboration with Win Butler of the aforementioned band of Canadian royalty.
With In Conflict, Owen Pallett continues a move toward more personal and potentially revealing material that began with dropping his Final Fantasy moniker in 2010. From the first track (“I Am Not Afraid”), there is a sense of revealing intimacy—but just as the album’s liner notes are partially obscured, there’s a sense that Pallett’s music will always need to be figured out, leaving the listener to bring their own experiences to the songs. The tension between revelation and ambiguity is echoed in the music, which avoids the easy, straightforward release of pop crescendos in favor of alternating textures and rhythms.
In the past, you might have been forgiven for thinking that Owen Pallett’s music may have inhabited a world that was a little too rarefied for its own good: released in 2006 under the name Final Fantasy, his second album was called He Poos Clouds, a conceptual work based on the eight schools of magic in Dungeons and Dragons. On In Conflict, however, the Oscar-nominated singer-songwriter (and sometime Arcade Fire and Caribou alumnus) hits a perfect art/pop balance. On the one hand, it’s an almost painfully personal piece of work, filled with aching songs like I Am Not Afraid and Song for Five and Six, the arrangements are hugely ambitious confections of strings and electronics, and there are segues and guest appearances by Brian Eno.
There’s busy and there’s Owen Pallett. Since his last album, the stunning Heartland, Pallett has provided strings and arrangements for artists as diverse as Duran Duran, The National, Taylor Swift, Arcade Fire and Robbie Williams. In Conflict sees him using his remarkable talents for the best possible ends: a set of his own baroque, knowing and strange pop creations.
There’s a discernible shift in lyrical tone to be found on classically trained Torontonian Owen Pallett’s fourth solo album In Conflict. The pronouns are decidedly more personal than before, the poetry is often intensely direct, and the representational characters so prevalent in 2010’s Heartland, have been removed from the equation. In various instances throughout the album he even speaks of himself in the third person, challenging his own thoughts and behavior within the narrative.
Owen Pallett has become a pivotal figure in the 21st Century arthouse baroque scene. He’s worked with Beirut, Arcade Fire, The Last Shadow Puppets and Grizzly Bear and he has pioneered the use of live loops in the last decade, building entire orchestras out of a solitary violin. His fourth solo album mingles gothic strings and sci-fi gloops and glitches to create a record that sounds destined to soundtrack the 2025 coronation of King James Blake I (‘Chorale’), his Silver Jubilee rave (‘Song For Five & Six’, ‘Infernal Fantasy’) and his inevitable dramatic assassination plots (‘The Passions’, ‘The Riverbed’).
Suggesting that a work of art “wrestles with the human condition” has been a trope in arts criticism for at least as long as I’ve been alive. The description is applied too liberally, often rendering it meaningless. Still, there’s no way around invoking it with regard to the composer Owen Pallett’s remarkable new album, In Conflict. Musically, as we’ve come to expect from him, Pallett flies high here, orchestrating effervescent passages built around strings, analog synthesizers and a fantastic rhythm section of electric bass and drums, all of which blend, dissipate and soar at just the right moments.
Owen Pallett's 2010 album Heartland marked the first appearance of "Owen Pallett" in his own music. Before that, he operated under the pseudonym Final Fantasy, until Square Enix rights holders objected. The "Owen Pallett" of Heartland, however, was still a figure essentially rooted in fantasy: the album told the first-person story of Lewis, a self-aware fictional character who does battle with the God of his universe.
Arcade Fire, Fucked Up, The Last Shadow Puppets and The National are just some of the many acts that have enlisted the help of Owen Pallett in recent years. In fact, the Canadian’s ability as a composer is such that he has become the go-to man for string arrangements, with his reputation continuously growing since releasing his debut solo album, Has A Good Home, under the moniker of Final Fantasy in 2005. His second album as Final Fantasy, 2006’s He Poos Clouds, fared even better than his first and won the Polaris Music Prize.
His fourth album features the most reality-based lyrics of Owen Pallett's career, yet there's still as much magic in his compositions as there was when he called himself Final Fantasy. The swooping strings, wistfully romantic melodies and percolating synthesizers effectively walk the line between serious experimental art rock and flamboyantly emotional synth pop, resulting in some of his most accessible work yet. The songs are still too wonderfully weird to make it onto commercial radio, but that possibility seems more likely than it once did.
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. .
A few months ago, Canadian indie auteur Owen Pallett shared an Oscar nomination with Arcade Fire's William Butler for scoring Her. The classically trained multi-instrumentalist's second album under his own name showcases his warm, elegant voice, matched with his compelling skill on violin, viola and synths; guests from a Czech orchestra to Brian Eno (who adds guitar, keys and backing vocals on several songs) accentuate a series of moving meditations on memory and identity. From the string-riff-heavy melodrama of "The Riverbed" to the layered collage of "Song for Five & Six" and the slow-burn intensity of "The Passions," In Conflict is a pop treasure that's also a stirring, personal work of art.
Considering his near ubiquity, in certain musical circles at least, it’s odd that so much of Owen Pallett’s solo career has been marked by long periods of silence. His first and second records may have appeared within just over a year of each other, but it took another four years (and the dropping of a pseudonym) before his third hit the shelves, and an equally long gap for this, his fourth. And it's difficult to not approach this record as a reviewer with a sense of anticipation, making the already daunting prospect of dissecting a Pallett record even more so.
A singer, string arranger and composer, whose score (alongside Arcade Fire's Will Butler) for Spike Jonze's Her was nominated for an Oscar, Owen Pallett is equally comfortable in the worlds of baroque pop and classical. His fourth album emphasises his fluidity, its complex arrangements and Pallett's choirboy voice placing him somewhere between Arthur Russell and a less hysterical Rufus Wainwright. Chorale and the title track are brilliantly skew-whiff and, though Pallett is guilty of trying too hard to impress ("Even as a child you felt the terror of the infinite," begins Song for Five & Six), the Canadian's melodies seldom disappoint.
While the puritan in all of us would like to have the capacity to at least purport to a sense of objectivity about the merits of cultural artefacts, the actuality is thus: nothing exists in a vacuum, nothing is without predecessors, nothing is what it is without the complex mass of preconceptions and schematic ideals that inexorably alter our relationship to anything. Owen Pallett’s 2010 masterpiece ‘Heartland’ was a record so good that the listener succumbed to it’s concept - the trails and travails of a hyperviolent farmer named Lewis and the oppression he faced in the guise of the benevelonetly omniscient narrator Owen - and fell in love with its immaculately arranged suite of orchestrally underpinned songs that sounded simultaneously timeless and out of time, each track stuffed with meltingly gorgeous motifs and the kind of melodies most songwriters would kill for. ‘In Conflict’ isn’t quite there: Pallett still sings like a choirboy, still crafts songs that nearly burst with swooping strings and balletic brass, still displays a penchant for lyrics that teeter on the edge of embarassing but remain firmly stuck in the memory banks.
opinion bySAMUEL TOLZMANN < @scatlint > In the decade since his emergence with his debut record as Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy Has A Good Home, Canadian wunderkind Owen Pallett has taken many roles: in-demand indie rock string arranger, film score composer, sideman for Arcade Fire and Beirut, impromptu elucidator of the music theory behind pop hits, and more. The emphasis, though, has to fall on that word “role.” Pallett’s done an admirable job of creeping toward minor ubiquity while remaining one of our most intensely guarded, least accessible pop musicians. In interviews, he’s engaging but careful.
Owen Pallett has always walked an unusual path between the classical and the modern. His songs use strings and orchestral instrumentation to suggest pop symphonies, but Pallett loops and twists those sounds into endless repetition, suggesting the world of electronic music. Melodies emerge fitfully, sometimes on the fifth or sixth listen, and they might flit away just as quickly, only to re-engage the brain years later, as half-remembered snippets of something long gone.
With In Conflict Owen Pallett cements his name as one of a select few contemporary solo artists who reconcile technical ability with a non-purist approach to pop songwriting and arranging. This approach allows the artist to transcend the contrivances of virtuosity - the trappings of the "instrument rock" showcase - and concentrate on what matters most: great songs that neither rely on, nor undermine, the artist's capabilities as a musician. Instead these artists use their chosen instrument to serve rather than dominate their sound.
“Silver is nothing more than the displacement of water,” Owen Pallett sings in On A Path, the third track on his new solo album. It’s a track that starts out with slowly prodding percussion and shiny strings, but takes a sharp left turn around the midway point to dramatic, near-Broadway musical territory. This is the essence of Owen Pallett. He’s an incredibly talented musician whose intrinsically catchy songs might fool you into thinking it’s not that impressive—until a little something in the song reminds you that it is.
From Lynyrd Skynyrd to the Black Crowes to the Drive-By Truckers, Southern rockers have been acutely self-conscious about where they come from, writing songs steeped in history, local color, memories, everyday life, expectations and paradoxes. Lee Bains III & the Glory Fires, a four-man band from ….
Academy Award nominee and Arcade Fire associate Owen Pallett recently acquired a small chunk of Internet notoriety by using music theory to dissect and explain the genius behind “Teenage Dream” and “Get Lucky. ” But the singer-songwriter, who in live performances uses loop pedals and other effects to twist his violin into occasionally unrecognizable textures, must know that composition is just part of what makes pop music work, and the best tracks on “In Conflict” succeed on the arrangements and production as well as the writing. Pallett sings with a soft tenor that induces ease, so that even though the playfully creeping chamber quartet of “On a Path” uses the same ingredients as Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida,” it comes off as intimacy rather than grand mythmaking.
Just prior to the release of In Conflict, Owen Pallett – singer, violinist, composer, in-demand arranger, Hollywood soundtracker – wrote a number of widely-shared blog posts in which he used his formidable musical training to dissect some popular hits of the day: Daft Punk’s ‘Get Lucky’, Katy Perry’s ‘Teenage Dream’, that sort of thing. He wasn’t just showing off. The impetus was some bullshit piece of rockist journalism in a broadsheet newspaper – you know the sort, moaning about manufactured pop hits, whatever happened to ‘real’ music, that kind of thing.