Over the past few years, Owen Pallett has accrued an impressive set of album credits, lending his violin or gifts as an arranger to artists as diverse as Stars, Pet Shop Boys, Duran Duran, The National, REM, Linkin Park, Taylor Swift, Robbie Williams, and quite frequently, Arcade Fire. Pallett, in fact, shared an academy award nomination with Arcade Fire’s Will Butler for their work on the score of the 2014 film Her.
Pallett first developed a reputation as a gifted violinist and arranger working under the moniker Final Fantasy (he performed at Calvin in 2009). Similar to artists like Andrew Bird and Kishi Bashi, he builds rich layers of music using his violin and a multi-phonic looping system. His new album, In Conflict, the second released under his own name, also includes legendary musician/producer Brian Eno contributing guitar, synthesizer, and some backing vocals.
Marking a thematic departure from his earlier work, the songwriting on this album is more explicitly autobiographical. While he has previously drawn inspiration from sources like video games, or written from the perspectives of invented characters, in this album he writes and sings, principally, as himself. This includes reflections on faith and fear:
I am not afraid, ze said, of the non-believer within me.
No delight at the pain of my enemies no tears for any friends I have lost.
You are not alone, I said. It is a trial to keep my belief suspended.
I leave my violin unattended in a cab or a restaurant.
And then when ze started to sing, nobody could’ve called them crazy.
Open chord forever unchanging. Holy eternal drone.
- from “I Am Not Afraid”
While Pallett is at peace with his identity as a “non-believer”, he has never been afraid to explore spiritual themes in his work. Heartland, his previous full-length release, is a concept album exploring the story of a farmer named Lewis and his relationship with his omnipotent creator, named Owen.
I've been in love with Owen ever since
I heard the strains of Psalm 21
Standing between the choirs
As they sang, "Laudate Dominum, Laudate Dominum"
Damn, I wrote it down, but I left it in the pocket of my other jeans
Scrawled across the foolscap: "I don't know what your devotion means,
I don't know what your devotion means."
And up, upon the summit I can see
The one I worshiped as a boy
The Creator, The Great White Noise
The Great White Noise
- from “Tryst With Mephistopheles”
Eventually, as creations are wont to do, Lewis rebels.
In this way, Pallett contributes to the continuing conversation about the inextricable nature of humanity and creativity, the conflict between creation and creator.