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.