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Owen Pallett
Heartland Meryl Trussler , January 6th, 2010 13:03

And pop begat a narrative, and narrative begat a mythology; and instead of Odysseus and Moses and Santa Claus we grew up with The Boy Named Sue, and Eleanor Rigby, and The Man-Eater. Then a sprightly Torontonian boy-genius named Owen Pallett came along and made |Heartland, and made all such attempts look like C- lollystick huts to his A+ ice sculpture of the Notre Dame. He is the teacher’s pet of indie music – and this is what happens when a nerd makes a world.

He makes a thing that shares its chemical composition with Joanna Newsom’s Ys, similar in volume and density: hers was packed-in tight with poetry, where this riffles with the concepts and characters of a fictional land called Spectrum. The album feels a little dry and uncharacteristically charmless until our protagonist Lewis arrives proper, in the gossamer strings, jolly suburban-pomp-pom-pom of brass, and girl-band drumline of ‘Lewis Takes Action’. Instant reassurance bubbles up and over. From there on in, Heartland is an epic and breathless indictment of the listener’s having momentarily lost faith.

Lest you question the semantic stuffedness I mentioned, put this on your finger and snort it: I would wager you can read into this album whatever you should wish. Our fan-faith in the singer, that finds a parallel: for here the musician is at once also a deity, creator of Spectrum and its inhabitants - the dreamboat farmer Lewis, Blue Imelda, No-Face and the soldiers scrambling to war. And Lewis sings with reverence and disillusionment of his god Owen - yes, by that name - in confused turns. Divine Owen’s apparent lust for this character/disciple recalls the titular track from last album He Poos Clouds, in which “every boy I have ever loved has been digital”, and which gleefully fetishised controlling the object of one’s affections with a joystick. He may have dropped his Final Fantasy mantle, but Pallett’s music still invariably plays God to a lush, noble and pre-apocalyptic game world, and, boy oh boy does it have levels. (Pallett’s also not averse to quoting from the canon of Super Mario, or the infamous Zero Wing; clever-clogged fans on the official forum even rustled up information on a game called Heartland on the ZX Spectrum. Curiouser and curiouser.)

But to the music, the music, because this isn’t a book, even if you get shut fast in it for days, and it isn’t a videogame, even if your brain needs a new graphics card to get your head around it. The music is what you would expect from Pallett by now, from artistic nature taking its course; the absolute mastery of the pop melody, crusting into electronica and florid orchestra at the edges (summarised by ‘Lewis Takes Off His Shirt’ and ‘Flare Gun’ in a one-two punch) and some intensely tight drumming by the Arcade Fire’s Jeremy Gara. Many of these songs have been around for a while now, in their complex, looped live forms: last May I remember ‘The Great Elsewhere’ echoed up through the Union Chapel towards the projected lights in the rafters, the scrambled notes like the keyboard was in a fever-dream, and I heard a lyric I could not help but memorise on impact: “wrestle, let’s wrestle / you can pin me to anything.”

One song in particular seems to be hitting the leak-drinkers the hardest (for leak it did, half-due to a clerical error on Domino’s part at the end of 2009): the penultimate, painful little waltz of ‘E is for Estranged’. As shown off in He Poos Clouds’ ‘This Lamb Sells Condos’ among others, Pallett has a particular cleverness with a piano: the chords bob and duck under the surface in ways one couldn’t predict, but that sound suddenly perfect: the opposite of those progressions that sound “right” mainly because they exist in a well-worn groove (cough, ‘Viva La Vida’, cough, etc.). The words, daintily troubling the fourth wall, descend with melancholy through: “if pathos is borne, borne out of bullshit / in formal attire / cue the Bulgarian men's choir”, before giving way to a high-pitched, horror-movie denouement.

It is a good thing this drops in January. It will take at least a year to get acquainted with. The bloggers will wake up by December with a start when the vessel finally bursts, and whatever meaning they take from this begins its hostile takeover of the body, and Heartland lands squarely in their Top Albums of Whatever lists. But it’ll be there. The record is huge and affecting. Trust me.

Or don’t. If there’s one moral to this here Pallett epic, it’s to question your faith in the author. Neat.