Owen Pallett – Heartlands (Domino) 11/01/2010

January 21, 2010 by  

Canadian singer/songwriter/violinist Owen Pallett, previously known as ‘Final Fantasy’, is reborn with his third solo offering after a four year wait.

For an accomplished violinist and classically trained composer, former winner of Canada’s equivalent to the Mercury prize, who has toured with Arcade Fire, and arranged the strings for their Neon Bible album, as well as worked with the likes of Fucked Up and Beirut, all is not quite right on his third album – and first for major label Domino – the orchestral pop LP ‘Heartland’.

‘Heartland’ is the musical equivalent of hearing Darth Vader’s theme song and seeing Jar Jar Binks turn up. You see there is no doubt that Owen has perfected his arrangements – four long years meticulously working on them has evidently paid off – it’s just the arrangements don’t allow us to hear the melody.

Firstly, on most tracks Pallett’s vocals lack bite. Although he sings well, the vocals just cannot match – and often distract -from the grandeur the arrangements present, such as on the forgettable ‘Lewis Takes Off His Shirt’, or ‘Flare Gun’.

The prime example is on what could have been a nearly perfect piece, ‘Tryst With Mephistopheles’ a chugging strings/piano delight, which becomes all the much better after Pallett’s strained vocals disappear before a more subtle – yet more effective – horn section is dropped in for the songs beautiful climax.

You feel like if he was preparing this track for a Win or Regine things would be different, and possibly his unflappable reputation is rightly reserved for making other good bands better.

Taking a more positive look, Heartland is not an awful record. On less ambitious tracks Pallett strips it back, and the occasional lo-fi offerings become more appealing. You also appreciate his actually quite charming vocals, especially on harmony led album closer ‘What Do You Think Will Happen Now’. ‘Keep The Dog quiet’ is simplicity at work, an uncomplicated bumpy ride through an dark and attractive track before a lovely ‘Mount Alpentine’ interlude. ‘Lewis Takes Action’ is even up there with ‘The XX’

On a whole there is undoubtedly some intelligent work on Heartland, with many compositions that could have been created from tugging his own heart strings throughout. Pallet is a prolific arranger and this much is apparent on second and third listens to the album. Yet all too often the album’s depth is unnecessary (perhaps like a Star Wars reference?!), with too many layers fighting to be heard over each other. What could have been a credit to Pallet’s time spent on an ambitious record, has actually made Heartland just too complex and too difficult to appreciate.

[rating:2.5]

By Joe Morrison


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