Owen Pallett - Heartland

Kyle Ellison 11/01/2010

Rating: 4.5/5

With his latest record, Heartland, it seems oddly appropriate for Owen Pallett to drop his Final Fantasy moniker. This is the Canadian's first release for Domino, and while not too drastic a departure from his previous offerings, it feels symbolic of a new era for Owen Pallett as a musician. Heartland will be his most widely released solo LP, including distribution to Japan which is the main reasoning behind his name change, given the popularity of the video game series from which his name derives. But as Pallett leaves the name Final Fantasy behind, he also leaves behind the introverted bedroom aesthetic of his previous albums. Essentially in shedding this name, Pallett steps out from behind the curtain, and announces himself as one of indie music's most exciting talents.

Of course, Pallett's work behind the scenes has always been the subject of much praise. He has made a significant contribution to some of the last decade's best records, perhaps most noticeably with his grand string arrangements on Arcade Fire's Funeral. However, when it comes to recording for Final Fantasy, his writing has always been more subdued and sophisticated than the grandiose arrangements that have propelled others to success. This is not the case on Heartland. Although Pallett continues to shy away from in your face Arcade Fire dramatics, this is as ambitious an album as you're likely to hear all year.

There is a slight stutter of an opening, but Heartland quickly erupts into life with Mount Alpentine; an apocalyptic 49 second interlude that showcases the breadth of Owen Pallett's power as a songwriter. From this point on, everything falls gloriously into place as the record's delicate arrangements come into their own. Lewis Takes Action, is the most immediate of these early tracks, with upbeat brass and swirling violin melodies making for an obvious and satisfying single choice. This is followed by arguably the record's highlight, The Great Elsewhere, which is as massive an arrangement as anything Pallett has ever worked on. Yet despite its grandness there isn't an ounce of superficiality. The song is a marvellous and intricate construction, as precise in its storytelling as it is its carefully orchestrated melodies. Its lyrics could easily stand alone as great prose, but in the context of the song become all the more dramatic, as Pallett sings, seamlessly, in full climax; "Followed him out to the end of the pier / 'Don't come any closer' he cried / 'I am afraid of the man I'll become if I lay my life down for a people that I don't even care for' / Face to face, I put my hand into his and I tried to tell him / 'No, I've seen his work upon the panes of cathedrals, in the sweat of the workers and the flight of the seagulls' / My words were drowned out by the sound / of the motors and the rowers / the ship as it ran aground".

While Pallett may no longer be known as Final Fantasy, his love for the video game can be traced through Heartland, in its creation of an intricate world and its inhabitants. With musical arrangements this good, Pallett could have got away with writing a bunch of half hearted love songs, but his ambitious storytelling end ups being Heartland's most fascinating feature. The bulk of the lyrics are centred around Lewis, a young, ultra violent farmer, having one-sided dialogues with his creator (Pallett himself). Lewis begins by voicing his dissatisfaction with his circumstances, insisting “I am not a farmer” on Red Sun No.5, before this later boils into anger directed at his maker; "Your light is spent! Your light is spent!/ I cried, As I drove the iron spike into Owen's eyes”. These are two of the clearer cut lyrics, but the songs can often prove to be more ambiguous and complex. Even now, after weeks of repeated listening I'm still finding new things and attempting to understand it.

And of course, I can only really scratch the surface of Heartland, a record with seemingly bottomless depth that begs exploration. At just over 45 minutes, too, it doesn't feel at all bloated despite being a melting pot of ideas. Few records with this level of ambition are so coolly executed, and only a musician as accomplished as Pallett could be capable of bringing everything together so succinctly. It seems appropriate, then, that Owen Pallett's real name should accompany these songs, as he should rightfully be given the opportunity to bask in the glorious world he has created.

Release date 11/01/2010