May 15th, 2014 12:35pm
The Gift Of Your Depression
Owen Pallett @ Bowery Ballroom 5/14/2014
Midnight Directives / Scandal at the Parkade / Keep the Dog Quiet / Soldier’s Rock / Bridle & Bit / The Secret Seven / Tryst with Mephistopheles / Song Song Song / That’s When the Audience Died / The Passions / This Is the Dream of Win & Regine / The Great Elsewhere / Infernal Fantasy / The Riverbed // Song for Five and Six / Lewis Takes Off His Shirt /// Pretty Good Year (partial improvised Tori Amos cover) / Peach Plum Pear (Joanna Newsom cover)
When I see an artist like Owen Pallett perform, I always stop for a second at some point to think of how few musicians – however great they may be – who are anywhere near his level as a musician. The full range of Pallett’s talent includes his excellence and sophistication as a composer and lyricist, his stunning proficiency with the violin, his imaginative use of live sampling and keyboards, and his gorgeous, highly controlled singing voice. A lot of his show, in which he builds elaborate arrangements on the spot with his loop pedals and his rhythm section, seems like a magic trick, and whenever I’m not sucked into the emotional urgency or sheer beauty of the music, I wonder how on earth he’s doing it all.
Pallett’s new album In Conflict is the best record I’ve heard so far in 2014. It’s been an unusually meh year so far, but even if things pick up a lot later, it’s very unlikely many better records will come along. The record is astonishing for many of the reasons I mentioned above, but it resonates with me deeply mainly for how Pallett approaches the idea of depression and the awkwardness of establishing true connection when you’re lonely with an degree of accuracy and generosity of spirit that is hard to come by.
It’s very hard to pick a single favorite on a record like In Conflict, but “The Riverbed” is a good summary of the record’s themes, and its arrangement is the most urgent – it just feels like a crushing emotional weight that feels like it could lift at any moment, but you’re just waiting around for that relief in the hope that it will actually come. I like the way Pallett’s words hit on ideas that will inevitably spark anxiety in some people – writer’s block, alcoholism, being alone and childless in your 30s – but the implication isn’t that these don’t necessarily need to be awful things, and they come out of choices you make for yourself that even when flawed are rooted in an attempt to do what’s right for yourself. The first two thirds of the song set up the anxiety and dread, and the final third offers comfort, mainly by introducing a positive form of doubt: What if you’re wrong, and you’re not a failure at all? What if it doesn’t matter as much as you think it does? Can you let go of your pride, if that’s what is really bringing you down?
Buy it from Amazon.