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The 69 Best Songs of 2016 (So Far)

Top69Songs2016
We’re halfway through 2016, so now’s as good of a time as any to take a moment for reflection before we march onward through the rest of the year. It’s been a wild six months, filled with surprise and high profile releases from some of music’s most prolific artists, not to mention quite a few underground successes as well. There’s probably no way you’ve heard all the great stuff, which is why I wanted to share this Spotify playlist filled with all of my favorites. If it seems like 69 songs is an intentional joke, I can assure you the number is 100% arbitrary. There’s nothing particularly official about this, nor are there rankings, simply a collection of tracks released between January and the end of June that you should probably spend some time with. They’re ordered in a way that I think flows best, in an effort to optimize listenability. It’s worth noting that this also makes a great playlist for your summer BBQ, as it’s packed to the gills with uptempo brilliance. Please enjoy and share!

Album Review: Viet Cong – Viet Cong [Jagjaguwar / Flemish Eye]

vietcong
92Heat WaveDon’t listen to Viet Cong when you’re in a good mood. Happiness has no place within this band’s world. There’s plenty of existentialism, darkness, depression and punishment to go around though, if you’re interested. But that’s pretty much what you’ll get from any artists affixed with the genre label of post-punk. Just look at Joy Division, the go-to post-punk reference, who made it their mission to tell everyone that love will tear us apart. Actually Viet Cong and Joy Division share more than just some sonic similarities to one another. Their names both reference controversial armies/regiments from past wars responsible for plenty of death and destruction. That’s even resulted in at least one Viet Cong show being cancelled specifically because of their name. But they continue to soldier on, because what else are they going to do? What really matters in the end is the music itself, and at the very least in that aspect Viet Cong’s self-titled debut album is a real killer.

What makes Viet Cong such a great and worthwhile record can really be whittled down to a single word: passion. It’s a quality that echoes through every single track, as the band plays with such urgency and hunger that you can’t help but be sucked into their vortex. The creative and unique twist they put on the post-punk label is equally exciting, particularly since so many other artists are simply content to do their best modern interpretation of The Jesus & Mary Chain or Sonic Youth. You can hear Viet Cong hit those touchstones with dashes of bands like Guided By Voices (“Continental Shelf”) and Wolf Parade (“Silhouettes”) as well, but then quickly swerve in obtuse and unexpected directions to keep you on your toes. While such experimental shifts can effectively alienate most listeners who thrive on the safe and familiar, the songs do their part to actively engage rather than shut anyone out. It’s how they can turn an 11-minute song called “Death” into one of the heaviest and most white-knuckle rides of 2015 so far.

Actually, calling the entire album a ride is another great way to describe it. Though the lyrics tend to be less than upbeat and the melodies won’t make you recall a bright, sunny day, this is a really fun and darkly humorous (on occasion) collection of songs. In the middle of “March of Progress” for example, vocalist Matt Flegel brings a serious amount of veiled sarcasm and dry wit to lines like, “Your reputation is preceding you/ We’re all sufficiently impressed/ And this incessant march of progress/ Can guarantee our sure success.” It’s a sly eye roll, scoffing at the idea that artists need to go out of their way to kowtow to critics and crowds in order to get ahead. Such matters aren’t of concern to Viet Cong, and their refusal to compromise or adjust their art for the sake of acclaim and popularity seems to have yielded them healthy portions of both.

As breathlessly exhilarating as the seven tracks of Viet Cong can be, it’s also important to note they’re equally fraught with conflict and a severe lack of any real human emotion. Flegel sings in a commanding monotone best compared to Interpol’s Paul Banks, and when combined with the highly distorted guitars as well as Mike Wallace’s overtly mechanical yet punishing drumming, it can register as very cold and clinical in its approach. Of course such a glassy-eyed approach has roots in post-punk and industrial music in the first place, so it makes sense for Viet Cong to fall in line there. They also avoid any hot button topics such as love or politics in their songs, favoring obtuse and wordy metaphors over clarity and relatability. These are the prices paid to thrive on experimentation and unpredictability. The band places form and function above all else, and such tinkering pays off with perhaps the first truly original record this year.

MP3: “Continental Shelf
MP3: “Silhouettes

Buy Viet Cong from Jagjaguwar

Album Review: Sleater-Kinney – No Cities to Love [Sub Pop]


87Heat Wave
Oh thank goodness Sleater-Kinney are back. It’s been 10 years since they chose to take an “indefinite hiatus,” and a whole lot of wild things have happened in that time frame. To quickly sum up, Corin Tucker started a family, then released two lovely yet quiet records fronting the Corin Tucker Band. Carrie Brownstein became something of a celebrity, grabbing attention for her acting chops in small films and TV shows, most notably Portlandia. She returned to music briefly in 2011 with a new band Wild Flag, which also included S-K drummer Janet Weiss. One album and one tour later, Wild Flag called it quits. Lastly, for her part Weiss has kept very busy playing in a variety of bands, most notably a stint with Pavement’s Stephen Malkmus as one of the Jicks. The reasons behind Sleater-Kinney’s 2005 break-up included Tucker’s decision to focus on raising a family and Brownstein’s serious health issues due to constant touring/recording, all of which seemed to imply a reunion would be unlikely. Yet maybe the time off was enough for the trio to recharge their batteries and begin to miss what they had together. After 10 years on and 10 years off, let’s hope that this new album No Cities to Love also marks the beginning of a new era for the band.

The primary concern with Sleater-Kinney, as with any band that reunites after a significant period away, is whether or not the new music will live up to the old catalog. 2005’s The Woods ultimately reflected a band going out at the top of their game, with everything prior building to that momentous record. A decade later, it’s very comforting to know that they haven’t forgotten how to write a song, nor have they mellowed with age. In some respects it’s like they never left, which is just about all you could ever ask for from Sleater-Kinney. Even John Goodmanson, who produced every one of the band’s previous records except for two, returns to the fold. Yet there are a few notable changes on No Cities to Love that are less apparent on the surface but become more obvious the closer you look. Brownstein has said in interviews that the trio began recording sessions for the album in 2012 with the intention of finding a new approach to the band, and by many measures that appears to be the case. They’ve never sounded cleaner or more focused. Clocking in at just over 30 minutes, the 10 tracks fly by without stopping for breath or even a ballad. The acidic and highly aggressive grit of their last couple records has been replaced with something a bit more accessible and mature, even though it’s by no means quieter or less vicious. Tucker’s vocals still show more power and range than most, Brownstein’s guitar solos remain vibrant and complex, while Weiss’s intricate rhythms keep everything held together quite nicely.

Perhaps the best way to get a sense of Sleater-Kinney’s more mature headspace across No Cities to Love is to take a microscope to their lyrics. These are some of the most personal songs the band has ever written, and that’s clear right from opener “Price Tag”. Acknowledging her status as a mother with a family, Tucker has harsh words about the recent economic recession and the challenges of trying to make a decent living wage when a lot of larger corporations are out to exploit their workers. Abuse of power is one of the primary themes of the record, and the biting “Fangless” along with the charging “No Anthems” address the issue in smart yet explicit ways. It’s also great to hear the trio sing about inter-band workings as well as their decade-long absence across multiple songs. The bouncy and fun “A New Wave” is about making your own path and not allowing the “venomous and thrilling” voices to change or shape you. They’ve got each other’s backs and will continue to do their own thing even if it drives them into obscurity.

Speaking of obscurity, the two main songs that deal with their hiatus show up right at the end of the album. Of the pair, “Hey Darling” is the most confessional, serving as a bit of a letter to fans. It also happens to be the one song on the record that sounds most like classic Sleater-Kinney. “Explanations are thin, but I feel it’s time/ You want to know where I’ve been for such a long time,” Tucker sings in the very first verse. What follows from there goes into how fame isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and sometimes even playing music for a room full of people can leave you feeling lonely. There’s not much subtext to be interpreted, except the idea that band life can become a bit of a drag if that’s all you do for a decade and sometimes you just need a break. “Fade” really plays that through to its fullest and most realized conclusion. “Oh what a price that we paid / My dearest nightmare, my conscience, the end,” wails Tucker over Brownstein’s heavy 70’s-style guitar riffs. There are dimming spotlights, a loss of a sense of self, and the question of whether or not the torture was ultimately worth it. The mere existence of No Cities to Love implies that the answer is yes. Considering how it all went down the first ten years, it’s probably best to assume things will be handled very differently from here on out. Who knows how long it might last, but as Tucker herself puts it, “If we are truly dancing our swan song, darling/ Shake it like never before.”

Buy No Cities to Love from Sub Pop

Album Review: Panda Bear – Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper [Domino]


85Heat WaveNoah Lennox aka Panda Bear has been making music for a long time. Nine albums and a bunch more EPs with Animal Collective, and counting Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper, five solo full lengths as well. That’s a wealth of material, made all the more interesting by how his sonic and lyrical themes have evolved over the last 15 or so years. The one thing he’s never been is complacent, and that’s served him particularly well on landmark records such as 2007’s Person Pitch and 2009’s Animal Collective release Merriweather Post Pavilion. Though each new piece of music stands alone as its own unique statement, we have reached a point where there are certain qualities that define a Panda Bear song. Things like samples, reverb, psychedelia and overdubbed vocal harmonies have become par for the course, it’s just the way they’re presented that has changed.

Following the dark, dub-infested minimalism that was 2011’s Tomboy, it’s something of a relief that Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper is a bit more well-rounded, albeit still quite serious affair. Singles like “Mr. Noah” and “Boys Latin” bounce, swirl and ensnare you with their hooks before you have the chance to realize you’ve been sucked in, the words often so obscured with reverb that you’re never fully sure what they’re saying but sing along anyways. That’s part of the charm. Yet when a phrase does come across with clarity, as on the latter track with the line, “Dark cloud has descended again,” it turns a seemingly joyful moment to one of dread. Such is the dichotomy that permeates much of the record, as Lennox embraces the love and serenity that growing older and having a family can bring, while at the same time wrestling with the fear of dying and leaving them all behind. The album title itself spells that out explicitly when the lyrics don’t.

At it’s heart however, Grim Reaper seeks to establish an overall focus on good triumphing over evil and finding the pleasures in life, one day at a time. The two tracks at the center of the record, “Come to Your Senses” and “Tropic of Cancer,” take a break from the frenetic sound collages that dominate much of the album to offer moments of sobering contemplation and outright beauty. On the former, Lennox chants, “Are you mad?” over and over, each time with a slightly different intonation, as if he’s trying to suss out what those three words even mean before finally deciding, “Yeah, I’m mad.” With the latter, harps and pianos plink with a heavenly sort of grace, as Lennox considers life after death and in doing so revives some of the memories of his own departed father from more than a decade ago. It’s a bit of a callback to his 2004 solo debut Young Prayer, which was created as a tribute to him.

Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper probably won’t be remembered as the best Panda Bear album, though it is his most accessible and all-encompassing to date. Thanks to its meticulous sequencing and reflective themes, it’s the sort of record that takes you on a journey and leaves you off in a much better place than where you started, even if it took some serious chaos to get there. Chalk up another big win for Mr. Noah.

Buy Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper from Domino Records

Listmas 2014: The Top 50 Albums of the Year [#10-1]


This is it! The final post of 2014 also marks the conclusion of Listmas and specifically this Top 50 Albums of 2014 countdown. It’s been a long road with plenty of bumps and delays along the way, but we’ve finally reached the peak of this imaginary mountain. At this point I’d like to give a special thank you to everyone who read something, clicked on something or downloaded something here at Faronheit over 2014. All of the content that’s posted here is for you to discover and enjoy, and I’m grateful for anyone who visits with that intention. It hasn’t been the best year for the site content-wise, but the hope is to generate more and return to form in 2015. Typically I’d tease a bunch of new features and exciting things in development for next year, but honestly most of that stuff either gains no traction or simply falls off never to be heard from again, so let’s just stick to the mantra of more everything and go from there.

So what can I say about these Top 10 Albums of 2014? Well, like the other entries in this list, there’s plenty of variety in terms of genre and style. It goes from weird to fun to noisy to sexy to relaxing to adventurous and back again. If you’ve been following me on Instagram these last few weeks, you’ve been given access to an early preview of the eclectic Top 5, though I can assure you that #6-10 are as equally exciting and wonderful. And hey, while I wasn’t able to write a lot of album and show reviews this year, some of the ones I did write about make an appearance here. Also worth mentioning: a particular pair of artists who are members of my Class of 2014 had an exceptionally great year, helping to continue to support that program. So I’m not going to spend any extra time talking this up. Please join me past the jump for the big reveal of my absolute favorite albums of the year.

Previously: [#50-41] [#40-31] [#30-21] [#20-11]

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Listmas 2014: The Top 50 Albums of the Year [#20-11]


As we get into the home stretch of this Top 50 Albums of 2014 list, allow me to briefly reflect in a more general fashion about what this year meant for music and the music industry. There seems to be a general consensus among many music writers and critics that 2014 was a bit of an off year. There weren’t a whole lot of genuinely exciting, mindblowing records that came out, so in a sense I understand where that idea comes from. But it also makes me wonder if we’re just a bit spoiled as well, you know? Like we’ve been really lucky these last few years, and suddenly when the magic starts to fade a bit we just go ahead and blame the artists for not bringing their “A” games every time. For what it’s worth, while I think this year has probably been the weakest so far this decade, I didn’t have any trouble filling up my Top 50 Albums list. There’s about 10 albums I wanted to include but couldn’t due to space restrictions, so that seems to indicate to me that things aren’t terrible. Where 2014 truly shined was actually in the songs. Many of the full lengths may not have been up to snuff, but boy were there some spectacular individual tracks this year that completely blew my mind. We’ve been headed towards a “single” culture for awhile now, and while I’ll always favor the long statement album over the 3 minute track, this year made me understand that concept just a little bit better. I’m excited to hear what 2015 will bring us, and if the couple of albums I’ve heard in advance of next year are any indication, it might be a great year all-around. Now then, let’s get into today’s set of 10 in this Top 50 Albums countdown. In case you missed the first three installments, here are links for you: [#50-41] [#40-31] [#30-21]

Join me past the jump for #20-11!

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Listmas 2014: The Top 50 Albums of the Year [#30-21]


As we reach the halfway point in our countdown, let me say a few quick words about D’Angelo. As you’ve hopefully heard, he released his long-awaited second album Black Messiah a couple of weeks ago, during a time when many in the music world had already released their Top Albums of 2014 lists, or at the very least were on the verge of doing so. The Top 50 Albums list that we’re counting down right now was actually all locked in during the first week of December. Really it’s just the writing that’s holding up everything being published in a more immediate fashion. So like those other music media outlets, I’m officially ruling that Black Messiah missed the unofficial cut off date and will not be found on this list. If you’ll recall, a similar thing happened with Beyonce last year, as her self-titled album came out a couple of weeks before Christmas. That turned out to be one of the best albums of 2013, to the point where I almost felt it’d be reasonable to include it on this year’s list since it missed out last year. Actually that D’Angelo record is one of 2014’s best as well, which also makes its lack of representation here just a touch sad. So I’ll advocate for it right now. Please check it out and pick up a copy. Of course I’ll also recommend that you pick up copies of all the albums on this Top 50 list. In case you missed the previous entries, here once again are links to #50-41 and #40-31. We’re continuing to chug along here, and I’m now pleased to present the next segment, #30-21!

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Listmas 2014: The Top 50 Albums of the Year [#40-31]


Okay, we’ve made it to Day 2 of this countdown. In case you missed the first set of 10 albums, aka #50-41, you can click here to bring yourself up to speed. The collection of records you’ll find below has a little something for everybody, I’d say. Well okay, maybe not EVERYBODY. But there’s some great synth pop, some punk rock, some electronica, some hip hop, and a little bit of experimental whatnot in there for good measure. If there’s a theme to be pulled from this portion of the countdown, it’s that change is inevitable, and can often turn out for the best. Anyways, let’s just get right into it. Here’s the Top 50 Albums of 2014: #40-31!

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Listmas 2014: The Top 50 Albums of the Year [#50-41]


This is the big one. Well to be more accurate, this is the START of the big one. The Top 50 Albums countdown is the cornerstone of Listmas every year, and the 2014 version is looking pretty stellar. Before we begin, let me quickly go over the basic ground rules to help explain the rankings and how records qualified for this list. Any full length record released in the United States over the course of the 2014 calendar year was eligible for inclusion. EPs are not eligible (sorry Royksopp & Robyn), nor are soundtracks (sorry Mica Levi and the Under the Skin OST), mixtapes and “Various Artists” song collections. It’s equal parts funny and sad to me that at the start of the 2013 Top 50 Albums countdown, I mentioned that the site had fallen off the wagon in terms of album reviews for that year, but promised that “in 2014, things are going to be different!” They actually were different in that the total number of album reviews declined yet again. There’s a myriad of excuses I can claim contributed to that problem, including some serious bouts with writer’s block and having a lot more general life responsibilities on my plate that snatched away the free time I’d normally spend writing. Ultimately though, I didn’t push myself hard enough to get things written and published in a timely fashion. I’ve actually got a handful of unfinished album reviews from across the year that I kept delaying until they were forgotten about. They’re all way past expiration date now, but maybe I’ll use pieces of those writings in the short capsules for each record on this list. When you really think about it, the Top 50 Albums countdown is pretty much just a mini-review marathon anyway. Almost all of these you’ll be seeing and reading about for the very first time on the site, so enjoy the surprise and suspense of what might be on the way this week. Today I’m happy to kick things off with the very first of five installments. Take a hop, skip and the jump to check out my Top 50 Albums of 2014: #50-41!

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Listmas 2014: The Top 50 Songs of the Year [#10-1]


Here at Faronheit, nothing is ever truly off limits. Musically, I mean. The primary goal is to help you uncover the absolute best that music has to offer. Sometimes that takes things to a really obscure, underground place, and sometimes it’s the opposite and revels in the mainstream. Listen closely before passing judgment on anything, no matter if it’s a local band you’ve never heard of or a new Katy Perry song. Even an artist you actively dislike might somehow release something that catches your ear and makes you question everything you’ve ever known. For example, a few years back I heard a brand new song on the radio that to my ears sounded halfway decent. Imagine my shock upon being told it was a Hanson song. Not like a 1996 Hanson song, but a 2010 Hanson song. Do I like Hanson more now as a result? Not really, but I suppose I respect them more than I did before. So keep (or start) listening to any and all kinds of music that you can get your hands on, because even the darkest corners may contain some hidden gems. With that, I’m pleased to introduce the final installment of The Top 50 Songs of 2014. The first 40 songs were all fantastic, but what’s below is the cream of the crop. What you see and discover here could very well confound your expectations and disturb you to your very core. Or perhaps after listening to all of these songs you’ll give an understanding nod. There’s a little something for lovers of just about any music genre, but of course feel free to disagree with any or all of the choices as this is totally subjective. In case you missed them, here are links to all the other parts of the countdown:
[#50-41]
[#40-31]
[#30-21]
[#20-11]

And so without further ado, please join me past the jump for my Top 10 Songs of 2014.

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Listmas 2014: The Top 50 Songs of the Year [#20-11]


Electronica. Indie pop. Synth pop. Experimental pop. Punk rock. Psych rock. Indie rock. R&B. You can find all of these genres and more in this next installment of Faronheit’s Top 50 Songs of 2014! Thus far, we’ve journeyed through three previous sets of 10 songs, and should you have missed them, why all you have to do is click these individual links to be taken there instantly: [#50-41] [#40-31] [#30-21]

Of course if you’d like to see all of the Top 50 Songs posts with a single click, simply choose this link. We’ve got two more rounds left, including this one right here, so follow me even further down the rabbit hole as digging continues toward the Top 10 Songs of the year. For the moment, click past the jump for #20-11!

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Listmas 2014: The Top 50 Songs of the Year [#30-21]


In the formidable challenge that is counting down the Top 50 Songs of 2014, today is the day we reach the halfway point and then keep going. The songs are getting progressively better, more epic, catchier, and more emotional. That’s how lists like this work. I hope you’ve enjoyed what’s already been covered in the previous two installments. Click here to see #50-41 in the countdown. Click here to see #40-31. Is there a theme to the set of 10 songs featured in this particular post? Not that I’ve been able to discern. You’ll find a couple of hip hop tracks, a couple of R&B cuts, a couple of synth pop numbers, and some other things that can sometimes feel like they’re straight out of left field. It’s nice to get a little unpredictable from time to time. So here we go: The Top 50 Songs of 2014 #30-21!

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Listmas 2014: The Top 50 Songs of the Year [#40-31]


This Top 50 Songs list is not organized in any other way than by perceived order of excellence, so when you have a look at the set of 10 below, you may be surprised at how thematically related almost all of them are to one another. It was a total fluke things worked out like that, and in fact I didn’t even notice myself until writing up this introduction. The overarching theme is love, whether you’re falling into it, out of it, or somewhere in between, which is a subject matter as old as music itself. I just looked it up, and apparently about 60% of all songs written today are about love, so I guess the similarities aren’t all that shocking after all. Anyways, let’s get right into it, shall we? This freight train keeps rolling on with #40-31 of the Top 50 Songs of 2014! Oh, and in case you missed it, here’s #50-41.

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Listmas 2014: The Top 50 Songs of the Year [#50-41]


Welcome, dear reader, to the official kick off of Listmas 2014! For the uninformed, Listmas is the grand tradition here on the good ‘ol site that celebrates the end of the year with a series of ranked lists. It’s not really a new or novel idea, and in fact pretty much every site that covers music releases their own lists, though I suppose very few put it all together under one broad label like this. Yet the word has also become part of the jargon people use to talk about this list-making season every year. Anyways, it’s my sincere hope that you’ll keep checking back and reading the site over the next couple of weeks while the slow roll out of Listmas takes place. We’re starting this week with the Top 50 Songs of 2014 countdown, and following that up next week with the Top 50 Albums of 2014 countdown. There are currently designs for another extra list or two leading up to Christmas and the site’s annual holiday break, but I won’t go into detail on those yet because there’s still a good chance they might never be written or published. The last couple of years this endeavor has become increasingly difficult to put together, and resulted in delays that pushed a list or two past the holidays. So let’s keep our fingers crossed that everything gets done in a prompt and concise fashion this year.

Today we begin the journey of counting down the Top 50 Songs of 2014. Before we launch into this, a couple of quick notes. This list will be parsed out at the rate of 10 songs per post, ideally kicking off on Monday and ending on Friday. Along with the artist and song title, I’m pleased to provide different ways for you to hear each of the songs on this list. Some will be available for free download, but most will be streams through Soundcloud, YouTube or Spotify. The hope is to make all of this music as universally accessible as possible so you can hear everything should you so choose. Once the list is complete, I’ll include a link to a full playlist on Spotify where you can hear almost everything, as a few artists on this list don’t have or refuse to use Spotify. In regards to what you can expect, I’d say don’t make any assumptions and mentally prepare yourself to be outraged at some point. You’re not going to love every song, and the picks range from the very obscure to the super mainstream, even in the Top 10. No artist is featured more than once, though that rule technically doesn’t apply to collaborations or featured vocal spots. The goal is to spread the love as widely as possible, so hopefully that comes across in the end. So without further ado, please join me past the jump for Faronheit’s Top 50 Songs of 2014: #50-41!

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Album Review: Owen Pallett – In Conflict [Domino/Secret City]



A fair number of people have absolutely no idea who Owen Pallett is, even though they’ve likely heard his music in one place or another. His primary claim to fame has been as a composer/unofficial member of Arcade Fire, most recently earning an Oscar nomination for his work with the band on the soundtrack to the 2013 film Her. Most, if not all of the band’s string arrangements come directly from his brain. He’s composed for other bands on occasion as well, including Beirut, Grizzly Bear and The Mountain Goats, the latter of which was a lyrical inspiration for his new solo record In Conflict. After releasing solo material in the mid-00’s under the Final Fantasy moniker (which he was forced to change due to a lawsuit with video game creators Square Enix), in 2010 Pallett put out Heartland under his own name. Like everything he had done up until that point, Heartland was a concept record, telling the story of Lewis from a fictional realm called Spectrum, who faces off in a battle with his God (named “Owen Pallett”). It was a rich and engrossing album that practically demanded to be heard in full in one sitting, each thread connected and lightly pulling on the one before.

In Conflict is similar in that it too is best digested all at once; however conceptually speaking there is no singular narrative or storyline to follow. There are themes though, and many of the songs deal with self-doubt, depression, loneliness and the challenges of connecting with others. These are things we all face from time to time, though some of us deal with it a lot more than others. There seems to be a lot greater resonance the older you are too, as friends slowly disappear into their marriages and families, what’s a thirty or forty-something single person with no children to do? In the opener “I Am Not Afraid,” Pallett appears to have come to some sort of a resolution about his life. “I’m not at all afraid of changing / but I don’t know what good it would do me / I am no longer afraid / The truth doesn’t terrify us, terrify us / My salvation is found in discipline,” he sings with confidence.

Yet as quickly as he finds direction, he loses it once more. “On A Path” is about losing your place or outgrowing your hometown and the subsequent wanderlust as you search for a new place to settle. Mental illness and the “It Gets Better” Project are the focus of “The Secret Seven,” inspired in part by the suicide of gay violin student Tyler Clementi. Pallett seeks to relate his own experience with mental illness as a teen as well as those of his friends in the hopes of helping others dealing with the same issues. He even gives out his phone number at the end of the song so those in despair can call him to talk if need be. Later in the record “The Sky Behind the Flag” deals with the desire to control every aspect of our lives and exert that same influence on the world at large. The idea is that such micromanagement can only end in destruction and implosion, as others as well as the universe do not like being ruled by an iron fist. Above all else however, “The Riverbed” probably best represents the album’s overall themes. The subject matter on that track ranges from writer’s block to depression to alcoholism to growing older without children, which is basically a nasty cocktail of anxiety and dread. Dark as it may get, the final verse seeks to provide some degree of solace, particularly with the line, “Try to admit that you might have it wrong.” In other words, though you may be haunted by your failures, perhaps everyone else considers you a success.

Such is the point of a record titled In Conflict, as our mental states often clash with one another in obtuse ways. That idea also comes through from the instrumental side of things, supported in no small part by the master of the oblique, Brian Eno. While Pallett does an incredible job with string/orchestral arrangements and there are plenty of them on this album, he’s also chosen to expand his sound to incorporate more electronic elements. He’s done a fair amount in that area before, but never to such an extent. Pretty much every song has at least a touch of violin in it, but there’s also a wealth of digital effects like beats and bleeps, often accompanied by some sort of synth or Mellotron as they work well together. Those sorts of moments are particularly evident on “The Passion,” “Infernal Fantasy,” the title track and a couple others. It’s easy to say that this is where Eno’s influence bleeds through the most, as the non-symphonic, non-guitar areas are almost always his specialty. The only disappointing thing about it will likely be how some of these songs come across when performed on stage. There’s a certain excitement that comes with watching Pallett build sonic landscapes through his unique looping techniques, and electronic/synth stuff pulls him out of that world, however temporarily.

As a whole, In Conflict represents yet another masterstroke from Pallett, who has increasingly proven to be one of the top composers making music today. The lack of any official conceptual elements connecting all of the songs through characters or ideas relieves us from the distraction of trying to analyze and dig out some sort of storyline so we can focus on what’s really being done and said on the individual tracks. Every moment is fascinating in one way or another, be it a delicate instrumental composition or a single word/phrase. Whether or not they are influenced by or autobiographical to the man behind them is certainly up for debate, but what’s not is their intention to provoke a response from the listener. Hidden beneath the themes of fear, anger, depression and anxiety is the message that everyone has their own path, and the choices you make, no matter how good or bad, are an attempt to do what’s best for yourself. Thankfully, this record allows Pallett to give us the best of his conflicted, brilliant self as well.

Owen Pallett – Song for Five & Six

Buy In Conflict from Domino

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