Album Review: Owen Pallett – In Conflict

By on Friday, 6th June 2014 at 12:00 pm

This review of ‘In Conflict’ was harder than most for me to write. I felt so out of my element. Indeed, with Owen Pallett’s impressive credits like an Oscar nomination for the score to the Spike Jonze film ‘Her’ and arranging for Arcade Fire, I knew that his album would be full of elements and technical virtuosity that would be beyond my simple tastes.

Sure enough, with each ensuing listen I went deeper, heard more and became more lost. I was sure I was experiencing a pretty great musician; I just couldn’t break it all down. But one would expect nothing less than brilliance from the fourth studio full length album from the violinist/arranger. And what did I eventually discover? Music that is both technically beautiful and artistically challenging while remaining accessible to listeners like me without classical training. Pallett presents a series of songs that are varied, layered, complex and interesting on many levels.

Despite Pallett’s clear pedigree, he still possesses the soul of a down to earth musician, ready to mix it up, experiment and occasionally hold onto standard pop sensibilities. A line in ‘The Secret Seven’ even perfectly encapsulates the everyman musician’s humble bread and butter of busking: “I’m out on the street, an open case and a mandolin and with every coin I am born again”. ‘In Conflict’ the LP gives us an intriguing mix of electronics, piano and, of course, strings. The album is bright, complex and varied. This is a musician who knows his craft and can stretch the boundaries of experimentation without sounding gimmicky or contrived. Being a violin player, Pallett has utilized strings instead of many of the more traditional rhythm instrumentation. It lends a unique flavor to the record and goes way beyond a pop album having orchestration added to it, ensuring that the strings are a much more organic part of it.


Additionally, contributions from Brian Eno add a panache that cannot help but be felt. For me, the standout track on the album was ‘The Sky Behind the Flag’. It starts out a bit choppy with just a touch of the recitative nature of good ’60s musical theatre, but the complexity of this truly wondrous piece develops as it continues on. I admit that I resorted to headphones to absorb all the facets of what was offered. The subtly of the layers and the depth of the soundscape were marvelous and was something one could truly get lost in, a sentiment echoed in the repeated line, “oh I gotta lose control, why can’t I lose control?” The simple reference of himself as the sky that floats behind a flag is both expansively descriptive and reprises the idea of getting lost behind what is easily seen.

The only flaw in an otherwise brilliant album is my own personal preference. The quality and timbre of Pallett’s voice is not my favorite, so while being fascinated and enthralled by the music, the album itself was slightly diminished for me because of that. A stronger voice may have propelled the whole thing to heights beyond comprehension.


‘In Conflict’, Canadian Owen Pallett’s fouth album is out now on Domino Records and Secret City Records. Pallett will be touring the UK and Ireland starting mid-July; for more details, go here or visit his official Web site.

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