The savvy amongst you will already know that Owen Pallett is better known as Final Fantasy and that this prodigious Canadian has two widely-regarded albums under that pseudonym, including the curiously-titled He Poos Clouds. What is less well-known is that this extremely competent classicist has in the past provided string arrangements for the likes of Grizzly Bear, Beirut and, most tellingly, for fellow Canadians Arcade Fire.
With his help, Arcade Fire went stratospheric. There is no denying it. Think why Funeral was such a success. Aside from the mind-boggling tempo changes and beguiling French-language parts, it was those strings.
His talent is therefore not it doubt, but how has Pallett applied it under this statement-of-intent, own name release? Sporadically is the answer. Across his twelve tracks, which all come from the point of view of "Lewis the violent farmer from the land of Spectrum", Pallett marries his lush arrangements with alternative additions. The clipped vocal and odd time signature in the opener "Midnight Detectives" sets the scene, bringing to mind Grizzly Bear, but with more, but not necessarily better, depth.
Whilst similar-minded musical composition graduates may applaud density and eschewal of the obvious, it does sometimes come at the cost of casual enjoyment and/or appreciation. So the galloping, wide-eyed strings that inevitably pepper this opening track work well with the horns, but they feel detached from the remainder of the track.
The key changes, violin swipes and trembling string section on offer in "Keep The Dog Quiet" seem to align it with a well-budgeted cartoon (think Fantasia). It is easy to visualise the tense scene Pallett is soundtracking here, and on "Flare Gun" the ensuing, almost slapstick chase scene. And so on and so forth, but it is not all bad news. In fact it is rarely so.
On "Lewis Takes Action" Pallett allows himself access to Phil Spector's drum patterns, but naturally these later become part of a much more sweeping and elegant piece. The closer "What Do You Think Will Happen Now?" is strongly reminiscent of that other great classicist Rufus Wainwright in its mild heart-string tugging. "Oh Heartland, Up Yours!" is a gently crafted paean awash with enviable melodies, woozy reeds and an electronic overtone. Success comes equally with the magnificently evocative "Tryst With Mephistopheles". It is all subtle suggestion and all the better for it.
In Lewis it would seem Pallett has the story, in his strong arrangements the scene, but a soundtrack accompanies images and combined these elements are sometimes not strong enough to manifest them. Another reviewer wisely stated that Pallett undoubtedly has a classic album in him, or indeed another if you look back to his Final Fantasy days. The problem is though that Heartland just doesn't quite feel like it, however close it may come in parts.
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Even though I love his previous works when he was known as Final Fantasy his last album Heartland is much better. It's stunning conceptual album with inner story and brilliant orchestral arrangements. Let Heartland put a seed of happiness into your heart. I am sure you will not regret.
Owen Pallett first came to my attention when he was part of The Hidden Cameras 'Smell Of Our Own' LP in 2003. Since then he's gone on to produce 2 solo albums in the guise of Final Fantasy, supplied the string arrangements to The Last Shadow Puppets first album, guested on many great releases by (among others) Arcade Fire, Grizzly Bear, Beirut and The Rumble Strips. But it is with this release that his particular brand of chamber pop has really begun to flourish & expand.
Opener 'Midnight Directives' really sets the tone with Pallett singing of loss and sadness, all-the-while strings and percussion seem to envelope his voice. It's a beautiful piece of work which is both evocative & stirring. It is by no means a lone high point though. Other highlights include the (linked ?) 'Lewis Takes Action' and 'Lewis Takes Off His Shirt', the latter is a personal favourite with Pallett repeatedly stating 'I'm never gonna give it to you' while the song rapidly builds around him with various drum machines, strings and synths, its an early contender for the enevitable songs-of-the-year polls come December.
Owen Pallett decided with this release to drop the moniker 'Final Fantasy' as he felt he was starting to become associated with the video game of the same name, and I don't know if it's just me but the record feels a lot more personal as a result. The album is peppered with mentions of loneliness & longing. With one track 'Oh Heartland, Up Yours!' seemingly describing Palletts disdain for his place of birth with the final statement being: 'My homeland I will not sing your praises here'.
The thank you notes in the booklet provides a glimpse into Palletts world as it is filled with members of bands such as The National, Grizzly Bear and Arcade Fire as well as film director Gus Van Sant. I think this tells any new-comer to his music what to expect, so if your a fan of any of the bands I've mentioned or other's such as Scott Walker or Sufjan Stevens, you could do a lot worse than checking this (and his previous 2 albums) out.
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Recently hearing a haunting cover of "This Modern Love" by Bloc Party led to a detective style search to discover who had performed this alchemy. It turned out to be Owen Pallett under the moniker of his band name "Final Fantasy". Not since Sufjan Stevens "Come on feel the Illnoise" has a composer tried anything this audacious in the broad field of rock music and more importantly succeeded. Not all of it comes off but Pallett's sheer verve is breathtaking and admirable and any slight missteps are easily forgiven.
NERD ALERT - Heartland is, at least in the description, a theme album about an ultra-violent farmer named Lewis in the fictional world of Spectrum. Shall we move on quickly? The music is a complex outing of instrumentation, lyrics and arrangements and yet in this mix are glorious melodies and songs. Arcade Fire has been the main beneficiaries of these arrangements thus far but Heartland allows Pallett an orchestra of his own and allows him to stake a claim to be the numero uno when it comes to lush chamber pop.
The highlights -
"Keep the dog quiet" starts off sounding like the soundtrack for a corny detective film until Pallett's quiet and beautiful vocal breaks in. It's like Jeff Buckley meets Mission Impossible as Pallett's repeats "consequential, sequential, sequential"
"Lewis takes action" has a playful orchestra accompaniment but it's Pallets voice that steals it. It sounds like the ghost of Carl Wilson and indeed, the album does has some nice references to his brother Dennis Wilson's recently re-released gem "Pacific Ocean Blue"
"Tryst With Mephistopheles" starts like Mr Blue Sky by ELO and is a light gorgeous ballad which Pallett announcing variously deficiency's like "I can't even keep my shoes tied". The violins dance, woodwinds blare and the song breezes along. the solo from the French Horn (?) at the end is a wonder.
"The Great Elsewhere" - Pallett lets the Orchestra loose over bubbling synths to tremendous effect with a yearning melody.
"Lewis takes his shirt off" again has a galloping synth riff, trumpets which punctuate and the gentle soothing of Pallett's voice. Yet there is as much power in this song as full blown rock epic. It is the album's rhapsodic and glorious highlight.
Weaknesses? For some bizarre reason, "Flare Gun" to these ears sounds like the theme from the "Addams Family" and I can't quite get passed that. As stated previously, the concept makes is a bit daft but who cares when the music is this good?
So where does this leave us? Listen to "Oh heartland up yours" the most conventional song on the album and recognise that most musicians will never come to close to even this degree of complexity. Pallett is probably best described by the term composer but from "Heartland" he emerges as the total rounded package. Having loved 2009's Dirty Projectors album "Bitte Orca" this album also reminds the listener that music doesn't have to be safe and stuffy. "Heartland" is clever, playful, visual, visionary and above all else a thing of beauty. At one point in the album, Owen Pallett manages to lyrically link a "concatenation" of locusts with farmers losing their focus. It's five stars just for that!
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Owen Pallett drops his Final Fantasy moniker, probably in part to distance from the game but also, one suspects, to give those who've noticed him on sleevenotes the chance to investigate this new work. The eagle eyed will have noticed that since the release of his last album his profile has risen thanks to string arrangements for the likes of Arcade Fire, Beruit, and The Last Shadow Puppets. So perhaps it's only right that he steps more clearly into the limelight for his solo work.
Augmemented by the St Kitts Winds and the Czech Sympony Stings this is a bold and interesting work. It has a distinclty classical feel to it sometimes resembling more of a song cycle than a conventional pop record. It feels grandiouse but not pretentious. There is a kind of concept to it but it doesn't seem like a concept album as the theme itself doesn't seem to drive home too obviously. It sounds rather beautiful and should please anyone familiar with Pallett's work as Final Fantasy and anyone else who is curious and wants something a little different may also find this worthwhile.
It doesn't always work. Pallett's voice seems consciously to be mixed down on a number of the tracks, which leaves you somewhat straining to hear the lyrics clearly on tracks such as opener "Midnight Directives" and "Mount Alpentine". If it is about the concept then this is something of hinderance.
That said the overall effect of these songs is rather beautiful so the irritation is minor. "The Great Elsewhere" reminds of something that could have appeared on one of Scott Walker's more recent albums but the album takes off in the final half of the album where the songwriting seems both stronger and more memorable. "Oh Heartland Up Yours" and "E Is For Estranged" are both understated gems whilst "Flare Gun" and "Lewis Takes His Shirt Off" are delightfully melodic and display Pallett's ability to write pop tunes. "Tryst With Mephistophlese" and "What Will Happpen Now" close off the album impressively.
This is a rather bewitching work, somewhat leftfield to some tastes - especially those familar with the kind of records usually released by Domino - but it is worth persevering with.
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Owen Pallett is clearly a great musical talent. This album runs the gamut from gentle ballads to sweeping strings. There are some seriously beautiful melodies and harmonies in here. My only slight gripe is that there are a couple of places where he uses dissonance (if that's the correct musical term!) ie where the part he is singing deliberately jars with the part the strings are playing. I know it takes a whole lot of musical talent to be able to pull that off, but I for one find it a tad difficult to listen to. Now I know that's the whole point, to create drama by making it difficult to listen to, but it's just not really for me. That said, such moments are really few and far between and the other 95% of the album can only be described as a true masterpiece. Highly recommended.
This record restored my faith in music! Musicaly and lyricaly it's such a rich seam that you will return to it again and again and find your own meanings. Let your self be lifted up and carried along on the swell.'Somehow, I don't think we are in Kansas any more Toto?' Let yourself be taken to the heartland of Spectrum where our protagonist farmboy Lewis(eromenos) puts an end to family life and embarks on his own quest to seek out and confront Owen the Creator/singer of songs(erastes). Buy this record and you to will waffle on for hours about it,or possibly head across the plains on horseback.Share the Joy!!