Owen Pallett has recently dropped his moniker Final Fantasy in favor of using his own name to separate himself from the video games everyone loves and adores. Despite this, his recently released Heartland boasts a cinematic and theatrical quality most role-playing game fans are accustomed to.
The album starts with “Midnight Directives,” which begins with angelic chants and already whimsical festival sounds: think 16-bit era’s Chrono Trigger. The marching snare gives the song an expected video game feel with Pallett singing in drowsy ambience. By now, the listener begins to understand why the album was recorded in Iceland.
“Lewis Takes Action” kicks off the indie pop side of Pallett as the ever-popular Ronettes’ “Be My Baby” drum intro welcomes Brian Wilson-esque melodies. And why not? The Beach Boys’ “Don’t Worry Baby” was basically an homage to “Be My Baby”; why can’t a 30-year-old Canadian use cutesy chimes and flutes to pay homage to a band doin’ another band and pull it off? And Pallett indeed pulls it off.
“The Great Elsewhere” is an electro cavalcade of arpeggios and rolling drum beats, while “Lewis Takes Off His Shirt” follows suit. “Flare Gun” puts Pallett’s theatrical themes heard throughout the entire album at the forefront and tries to Queen it up à la A Day at the Races. “Tryst With Mephistopheles” sounds like it’s ripped from a rock opera at the hands of an indie artist. It’s as if Pallett wants to slowly edge his way into musical theater, while keeping his fun and awkward compositions intact.
Heartland fights, at times, to be more than scenes and moods from an epic journey, but ultimately lets its defenses down as a progression into storytelling. Much like Belle and Sebastian’s Stuart Murdoch and his project, God Help the Girl, Pallett is torn between remaining a pop outlet for short and sweet songs and having big memorable arrangements. Luckily, he succeeds in both.