In Conflict is full of love songs – more specifically, songs about liminal states and our loved ones locked in battle with them.
“The record is meant to approach ‘insanity’ in a positive way,” Owen says – emphasis on the ironizing scare quotes around singular notions of insanity. “Depression, addiction, gender trouble, and the creative state are presented as positive, loveable, empathetic ways of being. Not preferable, per se, but all as equal, valid positions that we experience, which make us human.”
The songs are pretty but deeply unnerving – they cause discomfort in sensuous & seductive ways. While made with the rigor of a classicist, this isn’t classical music or even indie-classical music. Pallett is not just “approved of” by Establishment Art Music people (though he is) – he is also beloved for his accessibility; for the way his art reflects & resonates with Mainstream Pop Culture; for the emotionally cathartic outlet his music provides.
In Conflict comes after several years of collaborative work – Owen recently composed music on commission for London’s Barbican, The National Ballet of Canada, and Anonymous 4; contributed arrangements to twenty-five records including Pet Shop Boys, R.E.M., Robbie Williams, Taylor Swift, Linkin Park and The National; created music for the video games Portal 2 and Sword & Sworcery; and received an Emmy for his soundtrack to the New York Times Magazine-sponsored Fourteen Actors Acting project, as well as an Oscar-nomination for his work on Spike Jonze’s Her. Beyond all that, Owen continues to be a touring member of Arcade Fire, on synths and viola, and has, of late, recorded a half-dozen soundtracks for art films and performance pieces by directors and ensembles not famous enough to mention here (though Owen himself would be as likely to speak of a Toronto metal band he just finished recording as he would his more high-profile collaborations).
The record is the product of a perfectionist. He made it once in Iceland, chucked it, and made it again in two live-to-tape sessions in Montreal. “Thirty demos were cut down to twenty and then fifteen for the track list. Eight of the songs have been performed live. The earliest of them debuted in 2011. Guest vocalists include several heavenly-bodied women, one best friend and one famous guy.” (Brian Eno’s the famous guy. He sings layered back-up vocals throughout the record, plays synth on “The Riverbed” and guitar on the title track.)
Owen’s lyrics are not poetic in standard ways or personalized in a manner that one can discern individual people. Like the music, the lyrics embrace maniac motion and cool-headed reflection – the immortal haze of life before thirty seen in sharp relief against the hyper-awareness of age that comes after. At the risk of repeating a thought: this isn’t classical music but it is very well-composed. It’s hard to say if anything deserves the designation “timeless,” but In Conflict is singular enough to seem out- of-time, a notion its maker clearly has in mind:
“At five and six / even as a child you felt / the terror of the infinite” — “Song for Five & Six”