Monday, May 26, 2014

Gut Feeling: Owen Pallett - In Conflict

Owen Pallett – In Conflict
Domino, 2014
Experimental film was a required class for film majors at the University of Kansas. Despite having the worst professor known to man who did everything he could to ruin the medium for me, I still managed to develop a deep affinity for the likes of Stan Brakhage, Maya Deren, and Bruce Conner. They became demigods in my pantheon of beloved filmmakers. One of the films we watched in that class was the Bruce Conner directed video for David Byrne and Brian Eno’s “Mea Culpa” from their groundbreaking 1981 record My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. The primitive synths, atonal vocals, and African rhythms paired with Conner’s repetitive, monochrome, occasionally flicker-based imagery was trancelike, and obviously stuck with me all these years to the point where I immediately recalled that video whilst listening to Owen Pallett’s latest masterwork In Conflict. The album features Brian Eno on guitar and synthesizers, and honestly, you could have way worse people collaborating with you than Brian Eno. In fact, Brian Eno is maybe the best person anyone could ever collaborate with. I didn’t know he was on this record, but the fact that his presence was so deeply felt speaks volumes of the man’s influence.

Despite Eno’s hand caressing these songs, this is Owen Pallett’s show and Eno’s synths serve as a complement to Pallett’s incredible orchestrations and master class in songwriting. The same way Pallett’s string arrangements made Arcade Fire famous. As elegant as these songs are, the one time I saw Pallett live (8-10 years ago performing under his former moniker Final Fantasy) it was just him, his violin, a synthesizer, and an array of pedals at the dingy Bottleneck in Lawrence playing to no one. It was mindblowing watching him work. How did he keep track of all that shit? How did he fill the room with these gorgeous, fully orchestrated songs when it was just his slight frame populating the stage? I deduced that the man was clearly a wizard. He’s not alone anymore (although he might still be alone on stage, the last time I checked, he was playing “Lewis Takes His Shirt Off” in the pouring rain and it was majestic as fuck) as he is backed here by the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra and a legitimate band. It’s still a sparse record that feels like the album cover: a clean, black and white lyrics sheet marred by a big black splotch in the top right quadrant like something heavy hanging over the complex beauty of Pallett’s lyrics that teem with life, sex, and violence.

Like Pallett’s previous record—2010’s breathtaking Heartland—Pallett proves himself to be a wizard. His records feel like a gift. They’re records you chew on for days, weeks, months, years. Full of beauty and pain and, best of all, humor. Even though Pallett’s score (with Win Butler) for the Spike Jonze film Her was nominated for an Academy Award, he still seems to operate in obscurity. Either way, his albums will always be nominated for (or win) Canada’s prestigious Polaris Music Prize and continue to delight music nerds hungry for something beautifully challenging.

"Song For Five & Six"

"The Riverbed"

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