Fans of Canadian indie rock band Arcade Fire will by now be accustomed to their evocative use of orchestration, recently used to heartbreaking effect in the scoring of Spike Jonze’s Oscar nominated but criminally overlooked, Her. What the casual listener may not be aware of is that for the last nine years, the man behind their stringed arrangements has slowly been emerging as a star in his own right.
Alongside his contributions to Funeral, Neon Bible, The Suburbs and Reflektor, thirty-four year old Owen Pallett also lent his considerable talents to a vast array of acts such as Franz Ferdinand, Linkin Park, Taylor Swift and The Last Shadow Puppets and 2005 finally saw the release of his first solo studio album, Has a Good Home.
Initially releasing material under the moniker of Final Fantasy, Pallett established his unique sound, combining Classical sensibilities with the experimental qualities of Baroque Pop. More recently however, he hung up the pseudonym inspired by (but not directly linked to) the video game franchise when he released of Heartland in 2010 This year’s In Conflict is his most recent album and has been short-listed for this years Polaris Prize alongside co-nominee Arcade Fire. In short, his solo career now seems set to distinguish him from his collaborative roots once and for all. Currently touring Europe, America and Canada, Pallett made a brief stop in Glasgow last week and I caught up with his latest show at the Centre for Contemporary Arts, a modest but pleasingly intimate venue.
His sound reminded me of early Tori Amos, with the soulful sincerity of Rufus Wainwright and the occasional symphonic rock styling of Muse – circa Origin of Symmetry – but what really held my interest was the timeless quality of both his vocals and lyrical content. Described as an art-pop auteur, Pallett’s skill for creating little worlds through his song writing is captivating. Selections from Heartland described the life of a violent farmer called Lewis; a man in constant dialogue with his creator. The oppressive malevolence of Keep the Dog Quiet hung thick in the air, boasting such lyrics as “Their blood is spilled at the dawn/A nation bound to your will”, whilst E is for Estranged spoke frankly of fractured identity and generational struggles.
Pallett also deserves credit for his impressive technical creativity. With only a Violin, Keyboard and Loop Station at his disposal, he managed to fill the auditorium with a range of unexpected groans, creaks and pops. The concentration he employs to create such layered, looping melodies whilst maintaining focus on the emotion behind his lyrics is admirable to say the least.
The exquisite simplicity of this one man magic show was disrupted slightly with the arrival of additional band members in the second half but the set quickly regained its pace with upbeat numbers such as Infernal Fantasy and The Riverbed, which proved impossible not to stomp and sway along to.
As a first-time listener it’s safe to say I was dazzled, if not a little ashamed to be so late to the party. The recognition Pallett is now receiving as a solo artist seems not only richly deserved but inevitable and my personal prediction is that his best is yet to come.
In Conflict is available for purchase and download through Domino/Secret City Records.