[sic] Magazine

Owen Pallett – Heartland

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.