Owen Pallett – Heartland

Dropping the name “Final Fantasy” and replacing it with his own is a step in the right direction for Owen Pallett. It signifies that he is willing to step out from behind the veil and show himself and his personality off without fear. The likes of Arcade Fire, Grizzly Bear and Beirut may have been blessed by his golden strings in the past, but by releasing a record under his own name, Pallett seems finally ready to show a piece of himself.

It is odd, then, that “Heartland” sounds more complex and layered than not only Pallett’s previous work, but damn near everything else that can be heard these days. It is a shock at first to hear the skill of a single person wrought large across a cinematic landscape of luscious strings and tones. Pallett has brought his personality to bear on the music he crafts.

But what is his personality? Judging by “Heartland”, it is one with haughty aims, not just for the operatic, but also for the integration between the operatic and the joyfully addictive. Whilst the opening few tracks are something of a slog to get through, the bleakly catchy syncopation of “Keep The Dog Quiet” notwithstanding, Pallett relaxes the listener as the album progresses, and saves some of the best tracks for the back-end of the record.

Though the first half of the album has plenty of highlights, Pallett begins to unfold his music into the realms of magic from “Oh Heartland, Up Yours!” onwards. Suddenly a narrative thread is introduced, giving credence to the suggestions that this album has a Heaven/Hell style concept. The titular Heartland that at this point in the album seemed to be a wondrous place of beauty and isolation (not unlike the island Veckatimest that Grizzly Bear focused on last year) is shunned by the protagonist, Lewis. This thread runs through the rebellious “Lewis Takes Off His Shirt” and the ultimately uplifting (despite its place amongst the concept) “Tryst With Mephistopheles”.

It feels as though a monumental amount of work was put into this album, because not a single thing sounds out of place. The tempo and balance remain faultless throughout, even the off-putting rhythms of “Flare Gun”, which comes across as a demented Fantasia outtake, do not knock the listener out of stride. “Heartland” is ambitiously ornate, but accessible for the most part, creating a classical/pop crossover album that does not sound as if it is forcing itself into that category. And the moods sway from optimism to pessimism (note the contrast between the closing two tracks) cleverly enough to make it appear that the style is constantly evolving as the album progresses.

Really, Heartland is an exceptional album that stutters at the start to achieve its lofty targets, but has a breathtaking second half. Every element that makes up its composition, all the simple but necessary things, has been expertly put in place by Pallett, whose ethereal vocals and charmingly ambivalent lyricism should not be overlooked simply because the melodies create to assist it are so luscious. A true all-round victory for The Former Mr. Fantasy.