Plumbiferous Media

Heartland – Owen Pallett

Jan 17th 2010
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Heartland - Owen PallettOwen Pallett
Heartland
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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