Album review: Owen Pallett – ‘Heartland’ (Domino)

Prolific arranger brings the grand flourishes to his own work

Whether it’s Epworth, Rubin or Timbaland (well, once upon a time), there’s no shortage of working producers who can give an album an instant shot of hipness. But think of string arrangers who can have the same affect and you’ll probably only come up with one name: Owen Pallett. The Canadian child prodigy has sprayed his orchestral magic over albums by [a]Arcade Fire[/a], [a]The Last Shadow Puppets[/a] and even [a]Fucked Up[/a] in recent years. His reputation now eclipses his own two excellent solo albums (as Final Fantasy, a name he’s ditched to avoid confusion with the game) – the last of which (2006’s ‘He Poos Clouds’) won the Canadian equivalent of the Mercury Prize.

It comes as no surprise, then, to find that Pallett has been labouring on his Domino debut ‘Heartland’ for quite some time, presumably in an attempt to restore him as an artist in his own right rather than just the guy that makes everyone else sound better. If the staggeringly dense layers of strings and synths aren’t enough to keep you occupied, then the concept and narrative should. It’s based around a young farmer named Lewis – a wilful chap filled with wanderlust and a penchant for ultraviolence, as on ‘Lewis Takes Action’; “I took the no-face by his beak and broke his jaw/He’ll never speak again”, Pallett sings over what sounds like a Disney score.

There’s no denying that ‘Heartland’ is an overflowing well of musical creativity that leaves you feeling like you’ve missed something crucial if you let your attention drift. But the array of sounds can smother the songs. It’s only the more stripped tracks, like ‘Oh Heartland, Up Yours!’ and the closing ‘What Do You Think Will Happen Now?’, that give the melodies room to breathe.

That said, it’s difficult to accuse him of being overambitious because that was almost certainly the point to begin with. But if this is the fruit of four years’ labour, just think of what he could do in a more concise two. Mark your calendars for 2012; a true Pallett masterpiece feels very close.

Hardeep Phull

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Click here to get your copy of Owen Pallett’s ‘Heartland’ from the Rough Trade shop.