Review: Owen Pallett's Heartland

I have always considered Owen Pallett to be one of those artists who consistently fall just shy of their enormous potential. His earlier albums were released under the moniker Final Fantasy, inspired by the popular video game (and changed in anticipation of copyright lawsuits). With Pallett's new name tag comes the powerful artistic statement of Heartland-- a sprawling, downright medieval epic album that hardly takes a breath from beginning to end. And why waste any time breathing? Pallet has shed the intimate skin of his earlier work and embraced orchestral whimsy. The skinny violinist who arranged strings for Arcade Fire and released albums with names like He Poos Clouds has fully realized himself as a musician and pop artist. Don't be fooled by the lack of guitar or the abundance of neo-classical arrangments-- Heartland is a pop album and a damn good one at that.

From the very opening of the album ("Midnight Directives") there is an energy that pulses throughout with restrained but stated percussion (both acoustic and electronic). The first song slowly builds towards the emergence of explosive violins that rush with a violence not heard in his earlier work. But before we can even gain our composure we are rushed head long into the second track ("Keep the Dog Quiet") where we find a whole new world of playfully plucked violins straight out of some sixties heist film. It's nothing short of theatrical.

One senses that Pallett is constructing a drama in twelve parts and indeed the album, according to Pallett, has some conceptual elements: "I just wanted to make a really good album. There is sort of a narrative and there are some ideas I was piecing out when I was writing the orchestral parts, but I was just trying to make a beautiful orchestral album." The story supposedly centers around a farmer named Lewis who struggles with his Creator, but in all honesty the lyrics of this album come across more as an impression than a narrative. Sequence and character are lost in the orchestrations, but one can't help feelings chills at certain lines ("I will not sing your praises...") that spike out of the symphonic landscapes. 

Among several standout tracks, "E is for Estranged" is Pallett's finest. The song slowly unfolds itself over five minutes and reaches an emotional intensity that could certainly rival the most moving of broadway ballads. The tension breaks at three minute mark as a chorus of string and wind instruments flow forth, echoing the delicate textures of Sufjan Stevens or Antony and the Johnson's. It's the type of song needed for such an ambitious record, and Pallett delivers. 

Heartland demands the attention of it's listeners. The album finds the rare balance of both immediacy and growth. It will please on first listen and continue to evolve and amaze as one takes it off their computer and out into the real world. In my opinion, Owen Pallett has thrown himself into the early running for album of 2010.  

Rating: 9.0 / 10 

Buy Heartland
Mp3: Lewis Takes Action 


Anonymous | January 21, 2010 at 1:12 PM

a very well-written review, scott.
i listened to heartland the other day while i was running, and it made the whole experience feel infinitely epic.

scott | January 22, 2010 at 12:31 AM

thanks k.
if i exercised, i'm sure i'd agree with you.
but i can certainly imagine (in my head) how it would be an interesting album to run to.

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