Owen Pallett, who has retired the moniker Final Fantasy for his latest release Heartland, on the surface seems hardly to be the most prolific of artists; Heartland is his first album in over three years.
But in reality Pallett has been keeping himself busy writing film scores and soundtracks to computer games, and collaborating with, amongst others, Arcade Fire, Beirut, Grizzly Bear, Mika, Pet Shop Boys and The Mountain Goats as well as releasing a string of EPs, none of the tracks from which appear on Heartland. So perhaps rather than be surprised at the length of time twixt albums, we should be more surprised that he found the time to record Heartland at all.
Anyone not already familiar with Pallett’s work as Final Fantasy might have come across the classically trained violinist’s contributions arranging strings for albums by The Last Shadow Puppets or Beirut. As on previous releases, Heartland’s tracks are based in intricate strings, from which he uses synthesiser and electronic wizardry to build dizzying miniature concertos.
Opener Midnight Directives starts with a long drawn out drone of strings before adding frenetic skittish drums over the tale of a man leaving his family to join the church and finding fulfilment, which may well be a metaphor for the conflict of Pallett’s own sexuality.
In contrast to previous releases, the overriding feeling of the album is one of atmospheric introspection, to which Pallett’s warm, familiar but uncharacteristically understated vocals lend themselves well. Truly arresting tracks such as Lewis Takes Off His Shirt are the rarity. But careful listening to the rest is rewarded by catchy moments in other tracks; the line “Oh heartland up yours” swims out of a dark stirring track of the same name, and impels you to seek out the rest of the lyric.
It’s rare that Pallett invites comparison, but the excellent pulsating twee pop of Tryst With Mephistopheles could be a missing track from Sufjan Stevens‘ Illinois album, which is no bad comparison if one has to be made. The sweet orchestral flourishes can’t help to bring on a smile.
Heartland is nothing new and in no way groundbreaking. But no-one else combines such intricate classical styling and technology to such pop-savvy effect. Hearing Heartlands, one can’t help but realise how unique Pallett’s skill and outlook are and how fortunate we are that he chooses to share them with us, whatever name he uses.