Heartland, the third album by Owen Pallett, is a panoramic and orchestral work; a song cycle of Contemporary Fiction, and Owen Pallett’s finest work to date.
Heartland’s narrative concerns a young, ultra-violent farmer named Lewis and is set in the imaginary landscape of Spectrum. Pallett describes the concepts behind the record: "The album is about the beginning, middle and end of a relationship. But it’s sung from the point of view of the object of my affection.”
Recorded over nine months, Pallett enlisted the services of the Czech Philharmonic in Prague and travelled to Reykjavik to use Valgeir Sigurðsson’s Greenhouse studio, home to such sonically widescreen masterpieces as Bjork’s Medulla & Bonnie "Prince" Billy’s The Letting Go. Collaborating on Heartland are drummer Jeremy Gara (of Arcade Fire) and mixer Rusty Santos, who previously worked on Panda Bear's Person Pitch.
The composition of the record is diverse, oscillating between 19th century military music, '70s analog synth-pop, Russian futurism and American pointillism, often in the space of a few bars. According to Pallett, "The songs were designed to be as dense with polyphony as the Final Fantasy live shows can become. While writing it, I kept an image in my head of putting so many notes on the page that the paper turned black.” The result is a multi-layered orchestral work played with the immediacy of a singer-songwriter or electro bedroom auteur. As Pallett notes, "The album was compositionally modelled upon the principles of electronic music.” In effect Pallett treated the orchestra like a vintage modular synth, programming the parts accordingly: “The string section can function as a white noise generator, the winds clatter like an eight-step sequencer, and the brass rises and falls like an enormous oscillating filter.”
This process echoes the Final Fantasy live shows where Pallett layers parts over and over one another to produce a dense set of orchestral flourishes, something approaching a one man orchestra playing the Rite of Spring with a wholly pop heart. Running in counterpoint to this composition method is Pallet’s incredible sense of melody and his resonant voice. His singing on Heartland infuses the songs with empathy and drama, weaving itself among the strings and percussion, soaring at times on "Lewis Takes Off his Shirt" and "Tryst With Mephistopholes" through the drama of the narrative.
Owen Pallett named Final Fantasy as a nod to the unending series of operatic, melodramatic video games of the same name. Owen has written string and orchestral arrangements for numerous releases, including the Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible, Grizzly Bear’s Yellow House, Beirut’s The Flying Club Cup and The Last Shadow Puppets’ The Age of the Understatement. Most recently he wrote orchestral parts for Pet Shop Boys’ Yes, played violin on Mika’s The Boy Who Knew Too Much and contributed string arrangements to the Mountain Goats album, The Life of the World to Come.
Heartland is a unique modern musical statement. A record comprising twelve concise songs informed by the traditions of pop, which are based on one long narrative concept, and played by an orchestra. The result is an extraordinary piece of work ringing to the sound of its distinct sense of ambition, warmth and emotion.