Owen Pallett - In Conflict
No matter the objective insignificance of our lives, our status as needle in a haystack of seven billion needles, by the unavoidable nature of conscious we are the chief protagonists in our own plays. We might strut and fret in the undertaking of them, but there’s no escaping the import and impact of our small dramas.
It’s with this in mind that Owen Pallett undertakes his second album under his own name. Where his previous work might have been preoccupied with pursuits of fantasy and overt conceptualisation, In Conflict is a record that simply deals in the enormity of intimacy, turning those Oscar-nominated digits of his towards writing songs that soundtrack the thoughts in your head. In doing so, the sheer force of sound that gave weight to those previous compositions becomes even more achingly powerful on this plateau.
‘The Riverbed’ takes this concept and amplifies it to the utmost. As Pallett picks over depression, unemployment and the unease of childlessness in his lyrics, colossal strings and drums storm and flourish to breath-taking levels. Likewise in the video, wherein his Uncle sets about his day in a series of mundane images – playing with his dog, practicing yoga, getting dressed, going on a date – the music elevates the visuals to Olympian heights, so that an altercation with a trio of drunken louts feels like an all-consuming, momentous struggle of will… as it would for anyone in that moment of conflict.
This collision of the operatic and ordinary carries throughout the record, but what makes it all feel so vital, so transfixingly immersive, is the nimble variety and intelligence Pallett employs in the structure of these songs and the record as a whole. He oscillates between the M83-esque arpeggiating magnitude of ‘Infernal Fantasy’, the playful bass-line of ‘The Secret Seven’, the latter-day These New Puritans abstract weight of ‘Chorale’, or the deft, paradoxically uplifting chorus of ‘On A Path’ with equal prowess. The result is that over the course of the album, whether his topic be sex and sexuality or the political unravelling of his hometown, their consequence is not just intensified by the sheer force of Pallett’s music, but by the potent nuances which create it and seize attention-spans to the utmost.
In Conflict is a declarative record, a show of Pallett’s cards as held in 2014. From the openness of the autobiographical vein he opens up for examination in his lyrics, to displays of his hard-earned artistic heft (perhaps principally the presence of Brian Eno as a collaborator), it all combines to ensure this record to be a milestone, an extraordinary, beautiful and intense marker of inhibitions shed and intent actualised.