Owen Pallett


Owen Pallett's new album may be his best yet, finds Nick Roseblade

For fifteen years Owen Pallett has been round the musical block. First coming to prominence as the virtuoso violin player with the Arcade Fire, since then Pallet has provided string, brass and orchestral arrangements for Frank Ocean, Caribou, The Last Shadow Puppets, The National, Christine and The Queens, R.E.M., Linkin Park, Sigur Rós, Taylor Swift, and Pet Shop Boys. He has written scores for film and television, produced, most notably, the recent Mountain Goats album, and released a slew of glorious albums and EPs under both his own name and his Final Fantasy moniker. Now he has returned with Island. This is Pallett’s most ambitious album to date, filled with complex string sections, captivating melodies and the kind of lyrics that show a love for life seldom heard.

After the instrumental ‘—> (i)’ the album opens with the lyrics, “Every time I sing, you say that I’m gas-lighting, falsifying a private Thermidor. Your love was a warm wind, and me an empty sail, I collapse to the kitchen floor” over a jaunty acoustic guitar run. This feels like vintage Pallett, but the melodies have been ratcheted up a notch. They are incredibly catchy and bind the album together, giving Pallett a subtle backdrop for his songs about love, loss, and redemption.

The songs are broken up sporadically by the four ‘—>’ tracks. These are instrumental pieces that act as a pallet cleanser. They act as punctuation that help group Pallett’s songs into suites. This is a clever motif that pays off.

Lyrically Island feels like Pallet’s most confessional, and humorous, album to date. The lyrics are stark but are peppered with jet-black humour. “Started drinking on the job. And the job became easy”, “And I wonder who will sing of me when I am gone? As my body rises like a stone”, “The lonely only need to look up into the light, With lungs that breathe together soundlessly, Hold together fast, hold tight”, “I’ve mistaken self-indulgence for self-care, But do not be scared” and “Oh, I never learned how to hate, I never learned how to be hated”. Much like Leonard Cohen before him. His music feels sombre due to its tone, but scratch just below the surface and you find something that has such a joy for life, both good times and bad, that is hard to ignore.

Island is the strongest album Pallett has released to date. There is a newfound maturity to his song-writing. That is not to say it was missing before – far from it – but on Island you get the impression that Pallett really pushed himself sonically. The guitar work is hypnotic. The strings have a giddy vitality to them and Pallett’s vocals have never sounded better. Defiant with flourishes of hope.

The downside is that at times there as a faint air of smug self-indulgence. Pallett knows how good these songs are and how luscious they sound. Pallett did it on purpose and it worked. Luckily, these moments are fleeting and usually removed by the four ‘—>’ tracks.

Ultimately Island is an album to get lost in. Instead of writing an album worth of music, Pallett has created a world. A world that seems to live and breathe. This is down to the way the music has its own rhythm to it. As the strings swell it feels like they are taking a big breath for the next heady onslaught. Pallett once famously sang “I know what you’re looking for and I’m never gonna give it to you." And this is true on Island. What Pallett does incredibly well on Island is never to actually reveal what he is singing about. This, coupled with the luscious instrumentation, makes Island one of the most rewarding albums that Pallett has released to date.

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