Review of Owen Pallett's album Heartland released through Domino
As a reputable composer, writer and arranger of other people's works as well as his own, Owen Pallett could be forgiven for wanting to rewrite the history books - most notably his own - and start all over again from scratch. Whereas his both his previous solo albums have seen him record under the alias of Final Fantasy, 'Heartland' is the first to feature Pallett going under his own name. While it represents something of a new beginning, it also exudes both of its predecessors in terms of ambition and sheer devotion to some kind of uninhibited cause, in this case the tale of Lewis, a psychotically deranged farmer from Pallett's "Spectrum" world creation. However, as concept albums go, 'Heartland' isn't just another excuse to revisit some dungeons and dragons role-play obsession of mid-adolescence. Instead, Pallett's orchestral grounding coupled with his constant striving for perfection makes this a strong candidate for one of 2010's albums of the year already, despite being less than two weeks old.
Recorded over a nine-month period last year, 'Heartland' follows on from Pallett's most recent recordings, 2008's 'Spectrum 14th Century' and 'Plays To Please' EPs both structurally and lyrically. Long-time cohort Jeremy Gara of The Arcade Fire is once again involved while the delightful strains of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra punctuate the record's very core, not least on sprightly mid-point 'Flare Gun', previously released as part of a compilation some two years ago yet one of many potential singles here should Pallett choose to venture down such a road. Indeed, Pallett has been hinting at 'Heartland' being ready for public consumption far longer than the time it allegedly took to record, yet with just three albums in the space of a decade, one could hardly expect a prolific tendency to emerge overnight.
At the centre of 'Heartland' is the virile Lewis and even though Pallett's tones can sound as delectable whilst telling stories of murder and such atrocities as they can whispering sweet nothings, the likes of 'Lewis Takes Action' and 'Tryst With Mephistopheles' offer a more erudite vision of their creator's darkest recesses. Fusing classically weaved segments with carefully constructed pieces of electronica, Pallett's quest to create the perfect album holds no bounds, and as with 2006's 'He Poos Clouds', there's a feeling here that all probably wasn't that straightforwardly hunky dory throughout the making of this record.
Still, not one of 'Heartland' ten song-based pieces makes the button a more desirable proposition (we'll excuse the 50 second interlude of 'Mount Alpentine' for now) and instead, one could almost imagine Pallett setting the story of his "Spectrum" wonderland to celluloid in the none too distant future. For now though, 'Heartland' remains a near-perfect soundtrack to the innermost thoughts of its creator's turbulent mind. The word "genius" is often bandied about with wilful abandon, but in the case of Owen Pallett, its difficult to summarise such an astute songwriter and composer in any other way. Simply wonderful.