Please note: MP3s are only kept online for a short time, and if this entry is from more than a couple of weeks ago, the music probably won't be available to download any more.
Lately I have been caught up with Big Questions. Questions of why and what, a reverberating how. It's not an existential crisis, not a gin-soaked depression; I'm too happy for that. But, sometimes, some of us, even the happy ones, maybe especially the happy ones, need to ask these big qs. We are finally at a kind of rest and so it seems like the time, finally, to look life square in the heart and ask. Dry-eyed, deliberate, gazing from riverbed to thunderhead. With courage, no desperation.
Owen Pallett's In Conflict is his fourth solo album, the second under his own name. It is a tremendous work - universal and particular, pop music and out music. It fills me with a mixture of certainty and uncertainty. It feels like staring at yourself in someone else's mirror. Sometimes, listening, I am reminded of Stravinsky; other times, of Bernie Taupin. (Owen would maybe hate the Taupin comparison, but Bernie too is a master of revelation and affect.) It is an isolating album - a record that settles around you like its own biome, with rhythms and weather. It does not mix well with others - with stray scraps of radio, other people's conversations. I am writing this with Owen in my headphones and the World Cup echoing around me and it is as if two worlds are competing for my allegiance. One of them is valiant, the other capricious.
Let me talk about "The Riverbed". This song is a thrill. It is martial, thunderous, awesome. It is tidy and banal. It is the union of those sides: the banality of thunder, the thunderousness of ennui. Maybe they once called this genre "chamber pop", but here there is floodwater in the concert hall, electricity in the air. A clatter of snare and cymbal, that masterpiece of bass-drum - it is like making a monumental ascent, fording a river. The arc of Owen's vocals, the smooth swells of strings - this is all glide, unstruggling. Again, both sides - effort and effortlessness. This is the most confusing thing, sometimes, about art, and heart, and self-destruction: that they are hard and also easy, or easy and so, so hard.
Owen sings of hand on paper, finding new work. A few breaths later, The gift of your depression bears you down, down, down. So easy, each of these discoveries: sometimes the Muse is sitting beside you, offering creative inspiration; other times, the universe kisses you on the mouth and provides arbitrary sorrow. There are lines about alcohol and childlessness, loneliness and companionship. Just one glance at almost each image; the song is never subsumed by its subjects. And this is what led to my earlier reflections, on dry-eyed meditation: as much as "The Riverbed" tells a story about collapse and comeback, gin binge and struggle, it doesn't feel like it is performed from that space. Written, maybe (maybe), but not performed. Here, Owen seems sober and steady. He seems measured. He has looked into the well and now he can teach us about it. He can keep asking the same questions, the ones he intuited in crisis. Try to admit that you might have it wrong. He has learned something - something small, like a black garnet; something about velocity and persistence. Or even if Owen hasn't truly learned the lesson yet, he's untangling it, singing, trying to choose the proper words. Perhaps we can learn it. I'm going to try. This is the thing about life's empty hurtling: we're all falling together.
(Or are we?)
Posted by Sean at June 16, 2014 1:25 PM
This is exactly what I needed today: both the music, and what you've written. Fired me up when nothing else was doing the trick. Thank you!Posted by Meg at June 17, 2014 9:59 AM
I'm awed! I just listened to the entire album and I'm pretty sure morning gets better than this. Thanks for this find.Posted by Candice at June 18, 2014 5:04 PM
Became entranced with this song from the very start to the end... There's a somewhat haunting symbiotic effect (and slightly euphoric!) as I was reading your words with the music playing. This is very very cool.Posted by Mike Chung at July 15, 2014 6:24 PM
This is a daily sampler of really good songs. All tracks are posted out of love. Please go out and buy the records.
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"And I shall watch the ferry-boats / and they'll get high on a bluer ocean / against tomorrow's sky / and I will never grow so old again."
about the authors
Sean Michaels is the founder of Said the Gramophone. He is a writer, critic and author of the theremin novel Us Conductors. Follow him on Twitter or reach him by email here. Click here to browse his posts.
Emma Healey writes poems and essays in Toronto. She joined Said the Gramophone in 2015. This is her website and email her here.
Jeff Miller is a Montreal-based writer and zinemaker. He is the author of Ghost Pine: All Stories True and a bunch of other stories. He joined Said the Gramophone in 2015. Say hello on Twitter or email.
Mitz Takahashi is originally from Osaka, Japan who now lives and works as a furniture designer/maker in Montreal. English is not his first language so please forgive his glamour grammar mistakes. He is trying. He joined Said the Gramophone in 2015. Reach him by email here.
Site design and header typography by Neale McDavitt-Van Fleet. The header graphic is randomized: this one is by .
Dan Beirne wrote regularly for Said the Gramophone from August 2004 to December 2014. He is an actor and writer living in Toronto. Any claim he makes about his life on here is probably untrue. Click here to browse his posts. Email him here.
Jordan Himelfarb wrote for Said the Gramophone from November 2004 to March 2012. He lives in Toronto. He is an opinion editor at the Toronto Star. Click here to browse his posts. Email him here.
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our favourite blogs
(◊ means they write about music)
Back to the World
La Blogothèque ◊
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A Grammar (Nitsuh Abebe) ◊
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A London Salmagundi
Words and Music ◊
Petites planétes ◊
Gorilla vs Bear ◊
Silent Shout ◊
Clouds of Evil ◊
The Dolby Apposition ◊
Awesome Tapes from Africa ◊
Matana Roberts ◊
Pitchfork Reviews Reviews ◊
i like you [podcast]
Nicola Meighan ◊
CKUT Music ◊
Wattled Smoky Honeyeater ◊
The Clear-Minded Creative
Torture Garden ◊
Passion of the Weiss ◊
Juan and Only ◊
Then Play Long (Marcello Carlin) ◊
Coming Up For Air (Matt Forsythe)
my love for you is a stampede of horses
It's Nice That
Song, by Toad ◊
The Rest is Noise (Alex Ross) ◊
My Daguerreotype Boyfriend
The Hood Internet ◊
things we like in Montreal
le pick up
au pied de cochon
vices & versa
+ paltoquet, cocoa locale, idée fixe, patati patata, the sparrow, pho tay ho, qin hua dumplings, caffé italia, hung phat banh mi, caffé san simeon, meu-meu, pho lien, romodos, patisserie guillaume, patisserie rhubarbe, kazu, lallouz, maison du nord, cuisine szechuan &c
drawn + quarterly
+ bottines &c
casa + sala + the hotel
blue skies turn black
montreal improv theatre
cinema du parc
yoga teacher Thea Metcalfe
The Morning News