Plumbiferous Media

Heartland - Owen Pallett

Jan 17th 2010
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Heartland - Owen PallettOwen Pallett
Score: 90

Toron­ton­ian singer-song­writer Owen Pal­lett has been known as Final Fan­ta­sy since his 2005 debut album, Has a Good Home, but has quite recent­ly (just under a month ago) switched to releas­ing music under his own name - just in time for his newest LP, Heart­land, a con­cept album based around ” a farmer named Lewis and the fic­tion­al world of Spec­trum.” Pal­lett uses his expe­ri­ence with two pre­vi­ous albums (includ­ing the Polaris Prize-win­ning He Poos Clouds) to craft a fas­ci­nat­ing nar­ra­tion - though not with­out some musi­cal flaws.

For much of the album, Heart­land is just what you’d expect from a good com­pos­er, espe­cial­ly one who was until so recent­ly known as Final Fan­ta­sy. The open­ing track is syn­thy, quirky, and adven­tur­ous, both in that it is quite unique and in that it dra­mat­i­cal­ly leads the lis­ten­er through the first part of Lewis’s sto­ry. But while there are gen­er­al­ly inter­est­ing inno­va­tions such as the descend­ing drum lines on “Red Sun No. 5” or the inter­ac­tions between the highs and lows of “Flare Gun,” to which the vocals serve as a coun­ter­melody, Pal­lett does for a good por­tion of the album aban­don his amaz­ing, dense, orches­tral flair in favor of tracks that end up devolv­ing into bor­ing rep­e­ti­tion, length­i­ness, and an attempt at catch­i­ness that only occa­sion­al­ly suc­ceeds, and often ends up ruin­ing the track. “Lewis Takes Action” is the first instance of this type of less-desir­able track.

Owen Pal­let­t’s voice car­ries a pure, clear air through­out Heart­land, pro­vid­ing a soar­ing sound above the orches­tral base. As with much of his music, Pal­let­t’s voice is often the most strik­ing sound, even among the most active musi­cal sec­tions, which cre­ates an excel­lent con­stant thread through the album. Accord­ing­ly, the vocals are giv­en ample chance to build up the gor­geous ambiance they take on through­out Heart­land. Pal­lett tells the com­plex, radi­ant tales of Spec­trum with incred­i­ble life, and so unsur­pris­ing­ly his vocals are one of the best parts of Heart­land.

Beau­ti­ful­ly descrip­tive lyrics have long been part of Owen Pal­let­t’s music, and Heart­land is no excep­tion. The album’s main char­ac­ter, Lewis, has his sto­ry and that of Spec­trum told in twelve dif­fer­ent ways, each focus­ing on a dif­fer­ent point or scene in his strange­ly philo­soph­i­cal tale. But Pal­lett has not only told the sto­ry of the album mas­ter­ful­ly, he’s done it with a vari­ety of absolute­ly amaz­ing lines, from the cho­rus on “Oh Heart­land, Up Yours!”: “A con­cate­na­tion of locusts / And the farm­ers are los­ing their focus / On the pitch of the Aven­roe grass­es / I will sing, sing, sing to the mass­es / Oh Heart­land, up yours!” to “If pathos is borne / Borne out of bull­shit / In for­mal attire” on “E is for Estranged,” to the superbly self-reflec­tive “And as for me, I am a vec­tor, I am mus­cle, I am bone.” In its sto­ries and in the way they’re told, Heart­land is supreme - poet­ic in Pal­let­t’s writ­ing, with a sub­lime sense of humor that makes it all the more rewarding.

While not every track is a musi­cal suc­cess, the album is filled with an immense amount of diver­si­ty. Tracks range from the almost West Side Sto­ry Pro­logue-esque sound begin­ning “Keep the Dog Qui­et” that is then off­set by Pal­let­t’s voice, cre­at­ing a beau­ti­ful, mys­te­ri­ous, and won­der­ful­ly dark track, to the slow­er, del­i­cate, and amaz­ing­ly orches­tral “E Is for Estranged.” “Mount Alpen­tine” is immense­ly dra­mat­ic, “Flare Gun” is fun and catchy, and “Oh Heart­land, Up Yours!” plods along, telling sto­ries not only through lyrics, but in the music itself as well.

There’s no way around it, Pal­let­t’s sto­ry of Lewis has woven a great album. Heart­land’s vocals very infre­quent­ly dip out of tune, but are gen­er­al­ly ter­rif­ic. The lyrics are even bet­ter. Com­po­si­tion­al­ly, Heart­land is some­times repet­i­tive, but in gen­er­al, amaz­ing. Owen Pal­lett has used as many instru­ments as pos­si­ble and spans as large a fre­quen­cy range as he could muster to craft his album, and it cer­tain­ly does­n’t go unno­ticed. Heart­land is cer­tain­ly not with­out flaws, but in essence is a very pow­er­ful album.

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One Response

  1. A. Matheson says:

    Bought on yer rec­om­men­da­tion, and am by-and-large pleased. The bubbly/twitchy synths inter­act with the orches­tral strings in an exper­i­men­tal way that I dig, if I agree there’s exces­sive rep­e­ti­tion all over the place.

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