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Owen Pallett calls revealing new record 'most confusing' he's made

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TORONTO - Oft-awarded Canadian musician Owen Pallett recently hit pageview pay dirt with intelligent online magazine pieces analyzing the anatomy of such pop hits as Katy Perry's "Teenage Dream" and Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" from a trained musician's perspective.

Don't ask him to do the same with his own latest record, the oblique "In Conflict," out now.

Even he's mystified by the first collection of new material he's put out in four years.

"I'll be honest with you: this is the most confusing record that I've made," the Toronto native said in a recent telephone interview. "It's completely bizarre and confusing for me to listen to. I have no idea what it is.

"The minute I finished (2010's) 'Heartland,' I could put it on. I can still put it on today and be like: 'Good record, thumbs up.'

"But I put on 'In Conflict,'" he added, "and I don't know if it's any good but it certainly makes me feel things that I've never (felt). It's not an experience I typically have when I listen to my music. I'm usually thinking: 'Good work.' Now I'm kind of like: 'Oh my God, it's so crazy.'"

Well, craziness happens to be one of the main themes of Pallett's elliptical latest.

He's careful to point out that he's not speaking in clinical terms, but using "crazy" in the colloquial sense. He's writing about the neurotic, obsessive and unstable elements that characterize — in his estimation — many creative people.

As usual with Pallett's work, the lyrics are occasionally inscrutable and obfuscate any autobiography in layers of allegory and clever language. But the nature of creativity was something he found himself exploring.

"I like to joke sometimes that I majored in music composition and I minored in axe murdering," said the Polaris Music Prize winner with a laugh.

"It's the product of recognizing a lot of tendencies within my own mental activity towards what would be described as 'not sane.' ... But so much of that is linked to my creativity and to the thing that puts food on the table.

"I'm finding myself more and more drawn toward crazy people," he added. "The people who run the world are the people who have that level of obsession that they're going to stay up all night finishing that computer program, or whatever. ... People don't understand that the people who make this (stuff), they're completely nuts."

And the knotty, "In Conflict" does reflect a certain fastidious fanaticism. Though on some level Pallett's schedule was even more fragmented than usual — given his commitments to Arcade Fire (he's a touring member) and other pursuits (penning the score to Spike Jonze's "Her," for which he and Arcade Fire's Will Butler earned an Oscar nomination) — he devoted whatever spare time he could cleave to his solo work.

It's not as though he lacked focus. He insisted on working with live bass and drums, though it complicated the process, because he's always been picky about finding the perfect drum tone.

And in a coup that still elicits a charge from his voice, he recruited the massively influential electronic music pioneer Brian Eno to add winsome backup vocals, not his legendary production touch ("I don't know what it would be like working with him in a production capacity, but probably pretty weird — I'm a control freak," Pallett deadpanned).

Pallett had found his way into Eno's circle after the 66-year-old named Pallett's "Heartland" one of his favourite albums of 2010. Eno invited Pallett to play a festival in Norway, and then to perform at a party in New York.

Still, Pallett is careful not to oversell their familiarity.

"I wouldn't say that we really know each other," he said. "I couldn't just call him up and invite him over for dinner at this point or anything. But we're acquaintances. Obviously I'm a huge, huge, huge, enormous fan of his. And always have been. I'm especially a fan of his as a songwriter, which is kind of weird to say because he gets celebrated for a lot of (other) stuff.

"He was really the glue that brought the record together," Pallett added. "He has such an otherworldly voice."

Pallett is happy with his latest record, despite the confusion that apparently washes over him when he puts it on.

Or, perhaps, he's happy precisely because of it.

"I want (my music) to stay the same and yet be completely different, to keep things interesting (for me) and to keep things interesting for the audience," he said.

"I don't want to be onstage vomiting 'The CN Tower Belongs to the Dead' in the same way that I vomited it last year or last album cycle. So you know, I'm always trying to change it up."


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