A year in the making, Owen Pallett emerges with a rock opera
You couldn’t invent a musical project with a bigger dweeb pedigree than one whose previous work includes albums based on the “eight schools of magic codified by Dungeons & Dragons,” or a new work “concerning a young ultra-violent farmer named Lewis and a supreme deity named Owen.” And yet, that’s just what Toronto composer and Polaris Music Prize-winner Owen Pallett—the man behind solo string project Final Fantasy (its name a nod to the popular video game series)—does on Heartland.
The record is a 46-minute, 12-track piece for looped violin and voice that owes as much to Brian Eno’s ambient instrumental work, Tubular Bells and Andrew Bird’s whistled mini-symphonies as it does the more formal terrain of orchestral composition. Pallett is equal parts mathematician and sonic prankster, his compositions scaling the highs and lows of the musical staff like an ADD mountain climber.
This infuses songs such as the bouncing “E is For Estranged” and “Oh Heartland, Up Yours!” with a playfulness that belies the potential preciousness lurking beneath their polished surfaces. As a set of songs, Heartland has its hits and misses; but as a single work with an admittedly fanciful narrative throughline, it has its own peculiar charms.