Owen Pallett, string driven thing and fiddler on the hoof has a new album out, ‘In Conflict’ and it is a weird and wonderful experience. Renowned for his regular auxiliary duties with Arcade Fire and prominent arrangements with artists as divergent as the Pet Shop Boys, The Last Shadow Puppets, Robbie Williams and his Oscar nominated soundtrack (‘Her’) the peripatetic auteur keeps himself busy.
His second solo album following 2010’s ‘Heartland’ (plus two as Final Fantasy) deploys his trademark strings, violin and moody electronic noises to create an atmospheric and at times claustrophobic and unsettling album. It is no great surprise to hear that ambient guru Brian Eno is involved.
Pallet has described the album as a positive approach to insanity examining themes such as ‘depression, addiction, gender trouble and the creative state … presented as positive, loveable, empathetic ways of being … as equal, valid positions that we experience, which make us human’. But, what is the object or subject of this conflict? Is it within, without and with whom?
Beginning with ‘I Am Not Afraid’ with Michael Nyman-like violins Pallett’s voice is evocative of fellow Canadians Joel Gibb (of former collaborators The Hidden Cameras) and Rufus Wainwright albeit less world weary and cynical. ‘In Conflict’ is the standout track, a spacey synth opening breaks into a pulsating motorik beat with intriguing lines like ‘Strung out on the highway … a fire in the dark … so let me see that ass’ culminating in a coda of ‘There is nothing to lose.’ The chamber music/baroque sounding ‘On a Path’ reeks of displacement, rootlessness and alienation, ‘I stand in a city I don’t know anymore’ is it due to an ageing of the self or of the city?
‘The Passions’ is a vivid confessional a la John Grant’s solo work, portentous piano and ominous strings background a tryst with crossed wires, ’as we tried it on in bed, you’ve given me your home and head, we put on The Queen is Dead’ followed by exquisite Morrisseyesque moaning before crying ‘(I) just wanna talk instead … compaaaaaaasssasion.’ – —> (1) is a short interlude that paints a domestic scene from a John Ford western, signifying the calm before the storm before the storm itself breaks in ‘The Riverbed’ another ode about ageing and surveying and weighing the past.
Instigated by anger at a book that advocates and taking advantage of everybody every chance you can via the edicts of capitalism, ‘Soldiers Rock’ is an anthem for our times with its clarion call for the dispossessed, the marginalised, the 1%. ‘Somewhere between the road and the ever darkening sky, the greediest of our hearts will not be satisfied, as it is said by the occupants who rally on the outer steps of Parliament, so it is said confidentially by the men and women working in the government’
Overall the sound is doomy yet oozing with positivity and love. This orchestral producer of the after dark has created a grandiose album that never sounds bloated. To paraphrase collaborator Eno, it is both obliquely strategic and strategically oblique.