Last month, Owen Pallett wrote a 1,200-word essay for American culture website Slate about Get Lucky, using degree-level musical theory to explain, with exacting precision, why Daft Punk’s monster is so addictive. His piece also, perhaps unintentionally, acted as something of a primer for In Conflict, his first record in over four years: it revealed a man who views the problem of a track as viscerally insistent as Get Lucky as a scientific phenomenon to be unpicked. And in that context, In Conflict feels like his latest contribution to the field.
Accordingly, here is an album of delicious musical sophistication, full of richly accomplished, detailed and unusual flourishes, all spread across impressive arrangements and virtuoso tightness. Unfortunately, though, where Pallett’s natural peers, the likes of Jonny Greenwood or Sufjan Stevens, imbue their strikingly complex work with commensurate emotion, the strongest musical moments here – even the yearning, insistent melody of On A Path – still feel strangely synthetic and lifeless.
Occasionally, as on Sky behind the Flag and The Riverbed, Pallett combines his high-functioning musicality with delivery, and the result is a tantalising treat. More often, though, the theoretical intricacies are outweighed by the lab-grown coldness of academia. Ultimately, for all the undeniably impressive technical flair on display here, one is left frequently longing for the texture of unpredictability.