It’s not uncommon for an artist to try and give you a look inside his or her own life – it is uncommon for them to succeed. Confessionals rarely turn out the way they’re planned (just ask any high school student with a flair for poetry) and it’s a rare privilege to actually get a glimpse at what makes someone tick. And if it’s beautifully musical at the same time, well…
You can probably already tell that we liked In Conflict. Owen Pallett’s latest album is a terrific piece of work. Listen to it for its depth or its musicality or its punch. Whatever. Just find a reason and listen to it.
First things first: Owen Pallett is a hell of a musician. Powerful as the messages of In Conflict are, they wouldn’t fly without the sonic background that lies behind them. Pallett’s violin work is stellar. Ranging from menacing to pensive and hitting every spot in between, it provides a necessary emotional backdrop to his complex lyrics.
Take opening track “I Am Not Afraid.” While Pallett’s words are largely optimistic, a darker violin line establishes some of the uncertainty within the song (written partly about fluid gender identity). On top of that, the man can sing. His crisp, soulful voice is vaguely reminiscent of some contemporary folk-– think Pinetop Seven or even Great Lake Singers. Pallett’s vocals are well-suited to deliver the album’s deep, charged lyrics. Even high notes, like those found in the lovely chorus of “The Sky Behind the Flag,” are belted with aplomb.
So what’s being belted? Pallett handles some pretty serious themes here – age, sexuality and alcoholism are three of the most prominent. Don’t go mistaking In Conflict as catharsis. There’s more examination than venting going on here. Even “The Riverbed”– arguably the angriest song on the album– is carefully constructed. The lines “the gift of your depression bears you down, down, down / And when you wake for the sixth straight day with the Tanqueray” are part of an opening section that eloquently portrays the struggles of Pallett’s creative cycle.
“The Passions” is another study. It deals with a squirmy subject for some by detailing an intimate, but fragile relationship between a younger and older partner. There’s much, much more here. Pallett’s head isn’t always the most comfortable place to spend your time, but it’s a fascinating one and often a gorgeous one, to boot.