Under Review: Owen Pallett – Heartland

When you hear the words “Final Fantasy,” you undoubtedly think of the decades-old video game franchise that has pioneered the world of gameplay and graphic design.  Owen Pallett figured that you’re not alone in your word association, so for the release of his new album, Heartland, the multi-instrumentalist and arranger dropped the Final Fantasy name that he’s been clinging to since around 2005.  If the name Owen Pallett doesn’t conjure such vivid imagery as his former sobriquet did, know that Pallett has worked with a wide array of artists, from the Pet Shop Boys and Beirut to The Last Shadow Puppets and Grizzly Bear.  Perhaps Pallett’s best-known work was that with the Arcade Fire, whose two albums swelled and bloomed thanks to his lush string arrangements.  The intricate compositions that Pallett offered to other bands do surface in abundance on his own record, but what’s lacking are the songs.  Heartland is a kind of story album, with a farmer named Lewis who posits ultimately unanswered questions of his deity.  Of course, with a reputation and résumé like Pallett’s, it’s unsurprising that the music on Heartland is pretty enjoyable.  Think of the layered acoustics of Andrew Bird meeting the synthesized arrangements of The Style Council, magnified to fill an orchestral concert hall.  “Keep The Dog Quiet” uses pizzicato strings to lay a quasi-Latin rhythm, while “The Great Elsewhere” features a skittering keyboard that slips and slides across the plaintive track.  The problem is that Pallett’s lyrics and vocal delivery pale in comparison to his talents as an arranger.  Most of Heartland would truly sound better as instrumental suites, but Pallett’s limp baritone suggests the ubiquitous lazy vocals of every indie band’s singer since 2001.  Not even a clever idea like a song titled “Oh Heartland, Up Yours!” can get anything more than a moan out of Pallett.  While vocalists like Beirut’s Zach Condon or Win Butler of the Arcade Fire can get away with wavering, nonchalant techniques, Pallett’s singing serves little purpose other than distracting from an otherwise impressive piece of modern classical music.

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~ by E. on January 15, 2010.

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