Owen Pallet: In Conflict

Owen Pallet: In Conflict- Owen Pallett’s new album In Conflict is true to its title. This is the second release for Pallett under his birth name after Square Enix rights holders objected to his previous project title, Final Fantasy. Whereas 2010’s Heartland composed a fantastic battle between the fictional character Lewis and the God of his universe, named Owen Pallett, In Conflict relays a different kind of struggle. In his most personal venture to date, Pallett deals with themes of mental illness, addiction, sexuality, and other aspects intrinsic to the human condition. The album is extremely relatable due to its subject matter but what is even more successful is the choice Pallett makes as the creator of In Conflict’s universe which, unlike Heartland, is set in the everyday, real world. Like most good writers, Pallett understands that people are made of contradictions and he makes the smart move in creating voices who do in fact contradict themselves in the album. Likewise, by delving into his inner psyche, he was able to form a cast of characters struggling with universally troubling factors of life as well as holding true to his statement that In Conflict seeks to assume a positive outlook on inner battles and take them as they are. By splitting his psyche into a league of voices, Pallett spreads his experiences across a board of nameless characters and demonstrates the achievement of this desire.

The theme of the album may be conflict but the sound seems to build upon Pallett’s prior work instead of clashing with it. His voice is still both powerful and fragile and classical arrangements are as prominent as ever. The arrangements here are far simpler but one can assume it is meant to highlight the capacity held within the lyrics. Pallett’s violin is still the pulse behind the music but he doesn’t let it overpower the layered arrangements that produce songs with seven arms of sound direction. In Conflict conflates Pallett’s orchestral talents, electronic quirkiness, and rock sensibilities in one album but it seems he was less concerned with producing a different sound than with producing songs with colliding melodies that don’t seem to belong, but always end up working.

The album’s opener ‘I Am Not Afraid’ displays this duality in both lyrics and sound. Pallett introduces his most invoking vocals when he sings the seeming confession “Ill never have any children” and while one may assume Pallett is uninterested in parenthood, he subverts the thought with the following “I’d bear them and confuse them,” repeating a mournful “my children” at the end. The track begins as a string led piece with a violin rocking h on one note while Pallett sings but then electronic warbles wobble in before the track becomes grounded in piano. The repetitive, monomaniacal quality of the sawing violin here can also be heard in ‘On a Path’, where the insistence of the string melody lends a playful yet nefarious air to the song, inspired by Pallett’s 15 years spent in Toronto and the dysphoria that consumed him after he saw the music scene he loved dissolve there. This crazed consistency is also heard in the repeated E-flat and B-flat chords making up ‘The Riverbed’ where a fuzzed out guitar alongside Pallett’s pained tone and violin make way for it’s orchestral ending.

Pallett collaborated with Brian Eno on the album, knowing Eno’s passion for backing vocals and having his baritone further deepen the diverging sounds of ‘On a Path’ and ‘The Riverbed’ but it’s possible Eno’s passion for synthesizers played a role in the production of tracks like ‘Song for Five & Six’ where arpeggiated synths shake and skip alongside plucks of Pallett’s violin. Likewise, the title track begins with bubbles of synth before a reverberating sound and orchestral passages curl up towards a distraught Pallett singing, “You let yourself believe that there is nothing to lose.” The same blatant anxiety pierces his demand that “we all need to lose control” in the robotic ballad ‘The Sky Behind the Flag’ and the pain in his plea wafts and circles the mechanical beats pulsating around it. The album’s climax ‘Infernal Fantasy’ keeps up the techno while Pallett’s relaxed down-tempo falsetto set against the up-tempo beat continues the duality of album’s sound and theme.

Pallett confronts the LGBTQ consoling operation “The It Gets Better Project” in ‘The Secret Seven’ where he invites tortured youths tempted by suicide to call his number for strength because, he says, “It don’t get better.” Pallett plucks at his violin before aggressively sawing away and floating the melody heavenwards for hopefulness. In ‘The Passions,’ Pallett sings so closely about an awkward sexual encounter, it feels like we’re in the room. The pain in the song is increased with every “compassion” Pallett moans out and when he sings about how the boy who hooked his pinkies on his jeans put on the Smith’s album The Queen is Dead, groaning “I just want to talk instead,” the song’s sadness burns in slowly before every bit of desperation for touch drips out of his voice.

In Conflict is both a stunning example of the baroque-pop quality Pallett possesses and of an artist incredibly adept at creating lyrical complexity. Pallett has been able to construct whole worlds in his past albums but In Conflict seems his most impressive feat to date because this time, he was able to construct the real chaotic, wonderfully terrible world, an achievement worth high praise.


The Passions

White Sea: In Cold Blood


White Sea: In Cold Blood – One of the more popular discourses in indie music that I’m most passionate about is the vocalist as a musician.  Think about some of the more virtuosic female singers in pop music – Mariah Carey, Christina Aguilera, and a a slew of other dynamic voices negatively characterized by “oversinging.” Even as a fan of melismatic voices, I’ll be the first to admit that too many riffs, runs, and unnecessary high notes can be toxic. However, I’ll also admit that I’m completely infatuated by the power of the human voice both technically and emotionally.

When I was first introduced to White Sea‘s Morgan Kibby from her background work with M83, I was moved by her ability to make Anthony Gonzalez’s already lush compositions soar into the stratosphere with her beautifully airy tone. Her latest solo record, In Cold Blood, is a completely different ballgame though. This album ambitiously bulldozes its way in and out of various genres, all the while being propelled by Kibby’s honestly impressive vocal range. She makes a solid case that you can have your cake and eat it too – really dynamic voices aren’t only restricted to pure pop music. Kibby has the talent to sit amongst some of the more famous vocal divas. But, the way that In Cold Blood bends genres keeps the music interesting enough that Kibby won’t be labeled just another great voice.

Kibby gets things started off right away with the album opener and lead-off single, “They Don’t Know” – an 80′s inspired, operatic synth track that doesn’t shy away from being dramatic.  It’s a great track whose theme pretty much defines the rest of the album’s sound.  However, one of the more noteworthy songs,  Prague, keeps the drama and adds a quite surprising element of angst. The fuzzed out guitar riff during the chorus takes White Sea from dreamy synth pop to glam rock stomp in a matter of seconds.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how well Kibby has a handle on crafting melody too. On Prague especially, the chorus is so unbelievably catchy that you’ll without a doubt walk away with it lodged in your brain. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone considering that she had a hand in co-writing ‘Midnight City,’ M83′s dance rager that completely swept 2011.  As lovely and ambitious as her songwriting is, there are a few instances where it came but just a bit too much.

‘Warsaw’ fails to find that balance that the rest of the album lives in and ends up sounding a bit contrived. As Kibby belts out about “seducing your wives, fucking you blind, and gutting your fish” the intensity is lost somewhere with her sweet voice which leaves a little bit to be desired. Even at it’s weaker moments though, In Cold Blood, has plenty of great ones to make up for them. ‘Future Husbands Past Lives’ sounds like it was written by Prince and then put through the musical meat grinder, and I mean that in the best way possible. It’s a mini rock opera that has Kibby reaching the absolute limits of her vocal reach, and it’s quite impressive. Sure, this melismastic singing isn’t for everyone. But, there’s no denying that Kibby has great chops in both singing and songwriting…7.1/10

Sapphic “Nocturno Del Hueco”


Sapphic / “Nocturno Del Hueco

In the same mode of horrifying temperament that Louis Ferdinand Celine writes with, I must say, Sapphic culminates their latest knackering Post Punk track “Nocturno Del Hueco” in the same salivating quandary. If you don’t know who Celine is, that’s rather unfortunate, maybe question existence while reading “Journey to the End of The Night” or not, what have you. But, at the same time, to broaden their spectrum, imagine Sapphic an opaque and duplicitous enlightening that Echo and The Bunnymen, similarly, pursued. Questioning tangibility, a being rather, but aren’t we all. The guitar resembles bleak perception and a somber, simplistic conundrum of retaliation which is acting upon nothing. By that which is nothing, one acts oblivious and that is what Nicholas Alcock seems to be projecting in a moody serenade of a thoughtful, raspy, haunting, philosophically deviating tonal melody. This is then overlapped with a very forthcoming chorus that asserts itself in the foreground, closely resembling Peter Hooke’s iconic Bass lick in “Dreams Never End“. James Allen’s drums clash tightly with the dissonant melody, as well as projecting the same livid frustration and curiosity of why this person has returned, why these events have reemerged. “I see you, you are near. I see you, you are clear.” A thousand blind horses stampeding all at once, and though they run somewhere they will never see where they are running to, or what they will run into.


Azealia Banks: Heavy Metal And Reflective (Music Video)

Azealia Banks, a recent (and elated) divorcee of Universal Music Group, has unleashed a music video to accompany her first independent single, ‘Heavy Metal and Reflective.’ The song itself reflects her indie-rap leanings, with a great anti-catchy (nearly hookless) free flow of sexual prowess and braggadocio. While it’s doesn’t find Banks at her strongest, it’s definitely a marked improvement from would be hit flop ‘ATM Jam’ (with a hook by Pharrell that sounds as if he texted in).

Pulling on her growing signature style of lo-fi futuristic beats, the beat lurches and rattles with a cough syrup induced timpani bass line. The video is one of her best yet however, showing stylistic promise of what’s to come. In it, Banks escapes a desert kidnapping (a fun kiss-off to Universal) and zooms around on motorbikes with a gang of Powerpuff Girls and Rowdyruff Boys. Sporting a moto-romper that gives Charmander a run for its money, Azealia spits her rapid-fire verses with linguistic flair. She’s always had the talent, now she finally has the freed time to hone it.

First Aid Kit: Stay Gold

First Aid Kit: Stay Gold - The Swedish duo First Aid Kit, comprised of sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg ,  gained some recognition in 2008 after they uploaded their cover of Fleet Foxes’ ‘Tiger Mountain Peasant Song’ onto YouTube. Two years later, the sisters released their debut album The Big Black and the Blue in 2010. Now, with the release of their third studio album Stay Gold , First Aid Kit is continuing to make music with sweet harmonies and great melodies . The duo’s honeyed vocals and  skilled songwriting help get through the hardships life throws our way by putting things into perspective with their enchanting and inspiring songs.

This 10-track album features many songs that are sure to awaken your spirits. The first track, ‘My Silver Lining,’ is like a beautiful daydream. The sounds of the violin and cello are so uplifting that listening to them practically makes my heart flutter. In addition, the song features encouraging lyrics such as, “Time races on/ And you’ve just gotta keep on keeping on”. The tambourine on the song seems to represent the sound of feet moving forward despite what lies ahead; It helps to add more meaning to the song.

Another song, ‘Master Pretender’, is an interesting listen as well. Even though the song is inherently folk, it seems to have an island vibe which is likely to put you in a relaxed mood.

The track ‘Waitress Song’ is one filled with many scenarios. The title of the song comes from the first verse: “I could move to a small town/ And become a waitress/ Say my name was Stacy/And I was figuring things out”. The song is filled with a bunch of “I could be” scenarios which all allude to the idea that “anything is possible”.  It’s a song that lets you know that there is nothing wrong with reinventing yourself, just as long as you believe in yourself.

The song ‘Heaven Knows’ is more of an upbeat song that exemplifies the essence of the folk sound. With lyrics like, “You’ve lost yourself in others’/ Expectations of you/ Now you prefer this caricature before being true/ But you’re better than that/ You’re so much better than that/ I know you better than that”, the song explores the idea of how important it is to remain true to yourself.

Even though the album features songs that inspire others to be fulfilled, it also contains songs that are filled with hardships one must endure through life. The track ‘Stay Gold’ is a song that reinforces an important sentiment expressed in the poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay” by Robert Frost – “All good things come to an end.” Some lyrics that help express these thoughts are: “All of my dreams/ they fall and form a bridge /Of memories where I can’t get back to you”.

Another track that expresses a similar idea is ‘Cedar Lane,’ a song that reminds us of how time goes by so quickly and how some things never remain the same. The melancholy of the album rolls on with ‘Shattered & Hollow,’ which includes lyrics such as “I’d rather be broken than empty.”

The song, ‘The Bell,’ is a compelling track about mustering up the courage to walk away from a particular situation when you know it would be detrimental if you stayed. When First Aid Kit sings “How could I turn around?/Face the sound of the bell that chimes?/Ringing out, shrill and loud/To drag me back down,” they reveal that in order to remain honest to yourself, sometimes you need to cancel out the unwanted noise in your life.

The last track, ‘A Long Time Ago’ is one that speaks to your heart .The piano is absolutely beautiful. “I was the one/ You counted on/ But I was never the one for you/ Now I know/ I lost you a long time ago” – this line in particular makes the song quite touching. It definitely finishes off the album in a lovely way.

Stay Gold is a reflective album that has a personal way of relating to the ups and downs of life. Each song is nestled with enchanting harmonies, delightful melodies, and great life- lessons woven in asl well. These components make the whole album an absolute gem. First Aid Kit is a duo whose music seems to come from a place of sincerity, exploring various themes about life; Time goes on, the world keeps turning and life moves on. And, all of those things should be more of a reason for you to remain loyal to yourself and keep moving forward. It’s music that emphasizes the importance of perseverance. It’s music with a positive message, which is quite refreshing…9.2/10

A Long Time Ago


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