After collaborating with
Canadian violinist and singer-songwriter Owen Pallett
debuted under the moniker Final Fantasy with
Has A Good Home (Blocks, 2005), a set of spartan bedroom lullabies
mostly orchestrated for violin and tape loops a` la
The ambitious concept He Poos Clouds (Blocks, 2006), that blends pop
and orchestral music, is based on computer games.
He croons gently against a syncopated string orchestra and an accordion in
The Arctic Circle.
The neurotically baroque strings of He Poos Clouds shape the dramatic
atmosphere of a kammerspiel.
The piano unfolds pianola-style minuets in the vaudeville skit of
This Lamb Sells Condos,
and later a multi-faceted choir takes over the narration like in an ancient
On the other hand, his angst-filled vocals rule in If I Were A Carp,
the strings standing back as a mere corollary.
The spiraling motion of the strings is mirrored by the voice Im Afraid Of Japan, and both eventually sink into the quicksands of the subconscious.
Percussion instruments duet with plucked strings in Song Song Song that
surprisingly evolves into a jovial gypsy march.
The comic, or at least childish, element that shows up every now and then
sits frontstage in Do You Love?, a polka-like nursery rhyme.
The cycle ends with the stately Albinoni-esque adagio of
The Pooka Sings, with Pallett crooning passionately but in a whisper.
The string accompaniment is rarely rude. Mostly, it harks back to the
theatrical neoclassical style of Stravinsky, which fits wonderfully with
Pallett's subdued but sincere singing.
It often achieves the quality of a
"call and response" scheme between voice and orchestra, whether in a charming
(This Lamb Sells Condos and Song Song Song) or in a severe
lied-like manner (If I Were A Carp, The Pooka Sings).
This humble album makes Elvis Costello look
like a pompous amateur.
The metaphysical rock opera Heartland (Domino, 2010) exhibits a stronger
sense of rhythm
(thanks to Arcade Fire's drummer Jeremy Gara), which is a mixed blessing.
Keep the Dog Quiet is almost entirely played on a (bossanova-like)
rhythmic foundation (even the vocals).
The other major change is that the strings are supplemented with very loud
The horns and percussions make themselves heard right from
Midnight Directives, a lush serving of easy-listening pop if it weren't
for the crowded decoration.
Ditto for Lewis Takes Action, whose old-fashioned
cinematic leitmotif is continuously hijacked by sonic detours.
The sprightly, bouncing Lewis Takes Off His Shirt is
electroacoustic chamber music all but in name, having merged digital keyboards
with virtually the entire orchestra, all the way to a grandiloquent
If this weren't enough distraction, the church-like hymn
The Great Elsewhere is further
alienated by skittery digital effects and a circular minimalist organ pattern,
but somehow it finds the energy to spring forward in a frenzied crescendo.
Because it eschews the orchestral and rhythmic elements of the other songs,
the piano ballad E Is for Estranged is the one that returns to the
mood of the previous album.
The vocals retain their leading role in Red Sun No 5, approaching the
sunny, beach-y flavor of the Beach Boys,
in Oh Heartland Up Yours, whose scaffolding consists mainly of
sophisticated digital and acoustic events, and in
the closer What Do You Think Will Happen Now?, a bedroom whisper
that imitates babytalk and gets loped around another vocal line, thus becoming
two songs in one.
In an album so full of sounds, the seven-minute Tryst with Mephistopheles
feels like an overdose. Structured like a pounding bolero
that is interrupted a few times by violently plucked strings, it
eventually leads to a soaring trumpet elegy
after having withstood all sorts of piano and flute manoeuvres.
Compared with the previous album, this one projects the feeling of a
painstakingly assembled collage rather than a spontaneous flow of sounds and
vocals. Whether by accident or not, the melodies are stronger and deeper.
Now the referent is not the orchestral pop of the 1960s but the baroque pop of his
decades (from Magnetic Fields to
Whatever emotional power is lost on one side comes back on the other side.
And so it is that the number of memorable songs
(The Great Elsewhere, E Is for Estranged,
Lewis Takes Action, Keep the Dog Quiet)
is greater here than in its predecessor.
Heartland is the emotional and extroverted couterpart to the frigid
and austere He Poos Clouds, and viceversa.
In Conflict (2014), on the other hand, is a mess.
One is not sure if the heavily symphonic
I Am Not Afraid is supposed to be a song or what: there is no
refrain, and hardly a melody, the beat is trivial and the orchestra
only embarrasses itself.
In Conflict, on the other hand, clearly harks back to the most obnoxious
kitsch elements of lounge music.
The upbeat singalongs On a Path and
Song for Five & Six
are poppy but and perhaps danceable but not exactly revolutionary: we have heard millions of synth-pop ditties like this.
The second half of the album seems to abandon the struggle for the pop hit.
A few electronic tricks in Chorale
and, at least, a humbler vocal style in The Passions promise more
than they deliver but the supercharged
The Riverbed manages to turn its pneumatic beat into a veritable
weapon of mass crescendo.
The orgiastic polyrhythms of Infernal Fantasy maul appropriately
the one stately refrain of the album.
However, even the nicest tricks cannot raise the album from a state of
To add insult to injury, Pallett's crooning has become smooth and polished
like the vocals of an aspiring second-rate r&b singer.
The emphatic arrangements are just about the worst that one could concoct for
this kind of half-baked pop.
Brian Eno, who plays guitar and synthesizers, should have known better.
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