Heartland is one of those albums that has been in the making so long that it’s become a bit of a small legend in some circles. Owen Pallett has certainly kept himself busy over the past couple years, so I suppose that the three-plus year incubation time can be forgiven.
Since the release of his last album (He Poos Clouds, under the name Final Fantasy), he’s worked with everyone from Arcade Fire to Zach Congdon (Beirut), the Hidden Cameras, and Grizzly Bear’s Ed Droste, among many others. He’s also released a couple EPs, which only sort of hinted at the direction he was going in.
I have to say, the first time that I heard Heartland, I was a bit underwhelmed. Other than a couple songs which stood out, I figured it stick with me much the same as his previous full-length (which is to say, not much except for a couple songs).
A funny thing happened, though. Time passed and I found myself playing not just a couple songs over and over again, but the entire album. There are certainly songs that play in big ways on first listen, but it’s also an incredibly subtle album, with little flourishes that pop out and reveal themselves on the second or third listen then completely drill into your brain. The arrangements are clever, and more than anything the 12 songs and 46 minutes running length feel like a living, breathing thing that doesn’t always play out exactly like you’d expect.
In fact, that misdirection plays out early. The end of the mysterious, “Keep The Dog Quiet” continues right into “Mount Alpentine,” when quivering strings seem to signal the approach of something louder, or at least more intense. Instead, they fade, and along comes the rather reserved “Red Sun No. 5,” which then builds into “Lewis Takes Action,” which expands the musical palette with drums, chimes, and woodwinds.
The middle of the release offers a couple tracks which couldn’t be more different, but both succeed in their own ways. “Oh Heartland, Up Yours!” is close to typical pop structure, with some quiet verses that then build into slightly less quiet (but still rather subdued) choruses with hilariously exasperated vocal delivery that plays off the song title (and exclamation).
“Oh Heartland, Up Yours!” – Owen Pallett
“Lewis Takes Off His Shirt” is a completely different beast, and it’s easily among my favorite songs of the year so far. Slicing along with brisk repeated synth lines, it moves at a dizzying pace with flourishes of strings and woodwinds as Pallett delivers some of his best melodies (both vocal and instrumental) to date. By the time the latter section of the song hits, you wish it would go on for 10 minutes or more.
“Lewis Takes Off His Shirt” – Owen Pallett
Those two songs are only a couple of the outstanding moments on what is really a solid and mature release. There are no gimmicks here, just solid songwriting throughout.