Owen Pallett knows. He recently flexed his own critical aptitude in a series of theory-based pop song analyses for Slate Magazine
. This gives me pause — it feels like wiser eyes are peering over my shoulder as I write this review. But I'll be brave. Which ought to be easy — there's nothing but praise to pour upon In Conflict
, the latest full album from the Canadian composer, released this week.
What strikes most immediately about In Conflict
is its familiarity, and not just to 2010's Heartland
. Though Pallett officially stopped making music under the name Final Fantasy in 2009, In Conflict
's sonic genetics share something with the series of video games (dear to my heart) that served as the moniker's namesake. Listening to this album recalls for me the cinematic scores of Japanese game composer Nobuo Uematsu, as Pallett balances swelling orchestration with more earthbound acoustics and a spectrum of synthesizers that variously bombard and glisten. Name change aside, the contours of fantasy remain, in the music's landscape.
's instrumentals are world-trawling, epic in affect, creating songs that tower into immensity without becoming grandiose, grounded by Pallett's buoyant tenor that remains at unflinching ease, even as he sings about the problems of sex, disillusionment, apprehension, and mental illness. The deeply personal and often frank lyrical content of the songs is at once inconsistent with and perfectly suited to the cinematic sound it's delivered in. And with titles like "I Am Not Afraid", "The Sky Behind the Flag", and "Soldiers Rock", the conflict within ourselves attains for Pallett the direness of warfare. On "The Secret Seven", specifically, the openly gay musician critiques Dan Savage's "It Gets Better" campaign: "Some days I feel like the end of mankind / And somedays the beginning / Watching kids turn into lovers / believers / It don't get better." In "The Passions", he captures the dissonant feelings intimacy can create, singing over melodramatic strings: "As we try to get it on in bed / You've given me your home and head ... But I just want to talk instead."
is made with narrative in mind. It's an album that ambles, up and down, through the idyllic and the dark and the places where the two are indistinguishable. Pallett knows about life's perils, and here he faces them down with both fear and resolve.
You can buy the album on iTunes
, and you can watch the video for single "The Riverbed" below.