Owen Pallett is a virtuoso musician that is too dramatic for his own good. Underneath In Conflict, the violinist’s fourth solo record, he explores the difficult concepts of depression, addiction, and their effects on the creative condition with his trademark swooning vocals. Unfortunately, despite of (or perhaps because of) the heavy source material, In Conflict suffers like much of Pallett’s previous work for being entirely too earnest in its execution.
A unique take on baroque pop that centers around looped violin progressions, much of In Conflict hangs under the weight of Pallett’s remarkable voice, which is, as always, beautiful and angelic without ever committing to anything particularly interesting. The album cover, which is a printed sheet of the record’s lyrics with an ink stain atop it, perfectly sums up the major problem with Pallett’s recent output: that his creative stem is anything but transparent, and its opaqueness is offsetting and sometimes frustrating to manoeuvre around. For all his seriousness, it can be hard to take Pallett’s brand of crooning at face value.
Luckily, the much-talked-about addition of Brian Eno to the sizable list of contributing artists is no small piecemeal part. Eno’s signature synthetic melodies—from the warm, tape-fed warbles of the title track to “Baby’s On Fire”-esque chirping on the appropriately-titled “Chorale”—provide a depth to Pallett’s string loops that cushion the softer sounds of the album on a bed of slow modulation. The few songs that actually hinge on Eno’s synthesizer prowess, like “Infernal Fantasy”, are actually fantastic, deviating wildly from the operatic stylings of the rest of the album to deliver a nearly furious oration over wildly arpeggiating analog beats. The same dirtying effect is applied to “Soldiers Rock”, which could have been a bonus track on Here Come The Warm Jets and features Eno singing alongside Pallett.
Eno’s contributions are just enough to muddle the edges of Owen Pallett’s perfectly smooth compositions, but it’s still hard to take the solo artist’s operatic compositions as seriously as his pedigree would dictate. In Conflict very much describes the relationship Pallett endures with his audience—whether the creative condition is a soft and unmarred thing to be praised and preserved, or if it’s the pock-marks of a performer that lend legibility to his work, is hard to say. Fans of his previous work, both under his own name and as Final Fantasy, will find much to like on the surface of In Conflict, but newcomers to Pallett’s delicacy may find themselves looking for far more than the artist is willing to reveal.