Posted in Music on January 29th, 2010 by Tom

heartland At last, the first new album review of the new year! The honor goes to Owen Pallett’s first effort under his own name, having ditched the Final Fantasy moniker, for fear of SquareEnix coming after him, no doubt. Heartland is a concept album whose protagonist Lewis is coming to grips with the fact that he was created by Owen Pallett, and is confined to the landscape of Heartland itself. It is within this vehicle that Pallett guides us through some of his richest soundscapes he has ever created.

So many of these songs play like small orchestral pieces, beginning simply and slowly building to a more expansive and powerful musical idea. However, I should point out here that this is not your standard “slow build” a la a ‘Transatlanticism’ or the like. Instead, Pallett steadily layers sound on with each successive iteration through the song, which is why it seems such a smooth transition, but can also come upon you quite fast in places. A good example of this is heard in the eerie ‘Red Sun No. 5‘ which has a slow, almost dirge-like pace, driven by patient percussion. Layered over this are horns which build the song up and evoke images of some grand scale while the lyrics lend some cryptic insight into Lewis’s character who affirms, in spite of what we know to be true, “I am not a farmer.”

‘Red Sun No. 5’
[ mp3 ♫ ]

‘The Great Elsewhere’ is an example of this rich music but at a much faster pace. The drums propel us along through the thick of the song while the strings impart a sense of urgency, and rightly so, as Lewis recounts a story of a violent encounter on an island he had once long ago, you can feel his panic. Suddenly, as if cresting a small hill, the song slows, fading into a lull, as Lewis’s ship sails away from the island.

And of course, perhaps the defining characteristic is Lewis’s belligerence: glib though it sounds, “Oh Heartland, Up Yours!” ends with Lewis repeating “I will not sing your praises,” rejecting Pallett’s control over him. The following track, ‘Lewis Takes Off His Shirt‘ finds Lewis sans shirt, riding his horse as fast as he can, cognizant for a moment of “the odds against an adolescent standing up to all of Owen’s wrath.” He claims that “What I have is what you need, and I’m never gonna give it to you.” I could conjecture what Lewis is referring to, but I honestly have no clue… which really is part of the beauty of Heartland.

Buried within all of that fantastic sound, Pallett has constructed a protagonist so full of contempt for his creator that he ultimately tries to destroy him, leaving us with the puzzle to try and reconstruct how and why this happened. Pairing deep layers of meaning to his deep layers of sound, Heatland is as fascinating as it is delightful.

‘Lewis Takes Off His Shirt’
[ mp3 ♫ ]

Owen Pallett – Heartland


Best of 2009 Errata, Vol. 2: Fanfarlo

Posted in Music on January 26th, 2010 by Tom

fanfarlo_reservoirAs before, how I am kicking myself for missing this record the first time around. Though I’ve really come to appreciate what makes Fanfarlo unique, I think the easiest way to explain this band to someone who’s never heard them is in the following fashion:

OK, so you know Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea?

Imagine now that Jeff Mangum hadn’t gone a little tiny bit crazy and put the band on indefinite hiatus, and had decided the polish NMH’s sound ever so slightly.

That’s Fanfarlo.

Assuredly, such a comparison does both bands a bit of injustice. To say that Fanfarlo’s 2009 effort Reservoir punches through to the emotional plane that Mangum’s concept album, about the life of the celebrated author of The Diary of Anne Frank, did is most likely untrue. And as I said before, Fanfarlo’s record is far more polished than Aeroplane, but the instruments employed and musical ideas executed certainly invite the comparison. The vocals also hint at David Byrne, which is one of the greatest compliments I can give, and some of the composition later in the album is reminiscent of Beirut’s Gulag Orkestar.

My favorite thing about Reservoir, however, comparisons aside, is the pacing. I am always a little picky about this, but this London-based group (though the frontman is from Sweden, which maybe explains a bit…) has really hit the mark! Tracks such as ‘Luna’, ‘The Walls Are Coming Down’, and ‘Drowning Men’ really keep the album moving. Normally, I need this, and these are my favorite tracks, because during the slow songs my interests wanes, but not with this group. The slow songs, such as ‘I’m a Pilot’ and ‘If It Is Growing’ really provide invaluable structure to the rest of the album, and are good to listen to in their own right.

The best songs transition between these two ends, however. My favorite track, ‘Comets‘, as well as ‘Fire Escape’ and ‘Harold T. Wilkins…’ start you off slow, with an almost march, quickening eventually to inescapable refrain that you can’t help but sing. It’s also worth restating that the brass really helps these tracks, and its conservative use goes a long way, and when used with the theremin it helpts towards getting at a hint of that NMH-esque eeriness without it becoming overbearing.

Maybe why I’m grasping like a crazy person at similar sounding artists is because there are just so many layers to this rich music that it’s hard to describe. In light of my failure to explain it then, I strongly encourage you to check out this record. Expect big things from these guys, because if they can pull this off with their first swing, who knows what a year or two more of experience will help them produce in the future.

[ mp3 ♫ ]

I also threw in a “bonus” track of theirs because even though it’s not on the album, it’s easily my favorite after ‘Comets’.

‘Sand & Ice’
[ mp3 ♫ ]

Fanfarlo – Reservoir


Best of 2009 Errata, Vol. 1: Miike Snow

Posted in Music on January 24th, 2010 by Tom

Miike2 Honestly, folks, I don’t know how I missed this one. Miike Snow’s ‘Burial‘ was one of my favorite single tracks I got into during this past summer of mass-music-listening which sparked the format-change of the blog. Apparently, ‘Burial’ as well as my other favorite track by the group, ‘Black & Blue’, are both on the same album released this past May! Boy do I feel stupid. Without further ado, I must commence with my praise for Miike Snow’s self-titled debut.

From the same men who brought you ‘Toxic’ by Brittany Spears, as well as a litany of other chart-topping dance hits comes their effort made in collaboration with an American songwriter which has produced some most finely crafted indie-synth I’ve heard in a long time. A friend of mine commented that it’s a just “a little to slow to dance to,” which I must admit is true. That may be why accelerated remixes of multiple Miike Snow tracks have been tearing up the music alley of the blogosphere for the past few months, but it is in no way an actual detracting factor of the music.

Certainly, the drive and arching vocals of ‘Burial’ should make it clear why I’m so enamored with this group’s music, as its everything I’m looking for in a song: A mellow opening is slowly built, through the judicious use of a piano for a slow-build, finally arriving at the chorus. The bridge-like thing starting at 1:40 is maybe my favorite part of the song, getting you to the point where a power-doubled repetition of the chorus seems like just what the song needs, and delivers! ‘Black & Blue’ is similarly enjoyable, but far more up-beat.

Lower-intensity songs like ‘Sylvia’ and ‘Sans Soleil” showcase how much finesse these men command over their machinery, but maybe my favorite “surprise” track was ‘A Horse is Not a Home‘. The lyrics on this one, “With a hole in the heart / I was forced to ride / in morning traffic”, gave me a weird sortof post-apocalyptic vision, but it seems to be more of the emotional-isolation-is-tragic kindof thing. Either way, this song has the most fast-paced beats of any of the tracks, and I think it stands out as on of the album’s best (check out the little drum flourish at 2:44).

[ mp3 ♫ ]

‘A Horse is Not a Home’
[ mp3 ♫ ]

Miike Snow – Miike Snow


Clip of Forthcoming CAKE Track

Posted in Music on January 5th, 2010 by Tom

cake-bandCAKE is offering, to those on their mailing list, exclusive ringtones lifted from their upcoming album. They’re only 40-second clips, but it’s a glimpse of what’s in store when CAKE’s new album is eventually (fingers crossed) released sometime later this year. Below is the one titled ‘Federal Funding‘. I’ll do my best to track down the rest.

[ mp3 ♫ ]

CAKE – Previous Albums


2010 Music Calendar

Posted in Music on January 4th, 2010 by Tom

2010 is shaping up to be a HUGE year in music. Below I’ve compiled the collective knowledge of forthcoming records that I’m looking forward to. If some information or a band is missing, feel free to drop that in the comments. I’ll make a point to keep this current, and link it on the index whenever I update it.

ADMINISTRATIVE NOTE: The functionality of this page has been replaced by the dedicated Music Calendar.