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.”
‘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.