Boomkat Product Review:
Returning for a third solo album, Owen Pallett ditches the Final Fantasy moniker in favour of his own, less copyright-breaching moniker. Given that Heartland is his first work to be released in Japan, the name change was a measure to avoid any contention with the company behind the video game series of the same name. The essence of Pallett's music remains in place however, and the name change doesn't signify any sort of departure from his preoccupation with ornately realised violin-driven song-scaping. Since his last solo album, 2006's He Poos Clouds, Pallett has been seen touting his services as a string arranger, working on records from Grizzly Bear, The Last Shadow Puppets, Beirut and most famously, fellow Canadians, Arcade Fire. Perhaps prompted by working with larger groups of musicians, Heartland finds Pallett making good use of a full orchestra - the Czech Symphony Strings to be specific - and the early tracks seem devoted to manipulating the sonic capabilities of the assembled musicians, culminating in the forty-nine second wall-of-sound dirge 'Mount Alpentine'. Pallett's music has always been complex, perhaps excessively so in some instances, but here the excess seems to make more sense. Five tracks into the sequence, 'Lewis Takes Action' is possibly the first song on the record to really invite you into its universe. It highlights the peculiar concept behind Heartland too (something about a "young, ultra-violent farmer" named Lewis), contrasting surreal, often vicious lyrics with an ornately melodious arrangement that occasionally spills into dissonance. There's a floating tension between extravagant beauty, ugliness and outright weirdness that runs through the entire record to some extent, but look hard enough and poppy moments will reveal themselves: 'The Great Elsewhere' brings to mind Hounds Of Love era Kate Bush with its pounding toms and dramatically-charged chord progressions, but for the most part Heartland is a thing of fiendish complexity. Pallett has described his application of strings on this album as striving to mimic the noises of an analogue synthesizer and these stretched sonic capabilities are evident through tracks like 'E For Estranged' with its slippery pitches and microtonal tendencies. Surely the most confident and impressive long-player from Owen Pallett to date, Heartland is also at times ludicrously over the top and overwrought, but this sort of boldness is vastly more refreshing than it is confounding. Highly recommended.