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The Forum Endorses Owen Pallett

January 21, 2010

Dan Evans
The Forum Endorses Owen Pallett

Even if you haven't heard of him specifically, chances are you've heard some of the music Owen Pallett has contributed to. This is, after all, the man behind the soaring string arrangements that helped make The Arcade Fire a household name; actually, Pallett has been remarkably busy over the last decade aiding other groups on the road to stardom. His resume of contributions reads like a who's-who of the indie world: Grizzly Bear, Pet Shop Boys, The Hidden Cameras, The Mountain Goats (who originated at Pitzer College), Mika, and more. A classically trained violinist, Pallett provided all sorts of magnificent instrumentation to the aforementioned groups, as well as works commissioned by the Vancouver CBC Orchestra and the score to an early-90s video game. On top of all that, Pallett fiddled around (accidental pun, I swear) with a side project called Final Fantasy, after the Japanese role-playing games. Not exactly the type of name that propels one to stardom. That all has changed. Owen Pallett, performing under his own name for the first time, released his magnificent debut album, Heartlands, earlier this week and if it doesn't propel him to the type of recognition achieved by his peers, then I don't know what will. Pallett is a tremendous talent. He has a gorgeous voice and his album features some spectacular arrangements covering all aspects of the emotional spectrum. The Czech National Symphony contributed greatly to the record with some truly memorable hooks propelled by a full host of woodwinds, strings, and brass. As several concert videos demonstrate, this is a great contrast to Pallett's live show, which consists of him, a violin, and a loop pedal to fill out his songs.

Comparisons to others in the indie world are, of course, inevitable. On paper, Pallett resembles another violin-toting musician, whistler Andrew Bird. Yet their musical differences are evident on the first listen to Heartlands. Where Bird's voice dominates sparse arrangements, his whistle and violin dueling for melodic dominance, Owen Pallett fills his songs with fantastically quirky melodies and a decidedly classical tone. There are sweeping crescendos, tension-building tremolos, and few (if any) gaps between songs. This is a complete work, flowing with the dreaminess of another classically-minded indie figure, harpist Joanna Newsom. Yet one does not need the immense patience required of Newsom's last release, the cryptic and druggish Ys, to enjoy Heartlands. Tracks like the plucky "Lewis Takes Action" are memorable and catchy.  Pallett's ever-so-smooth voice mixes beautifully with  the staccato orchestral plunks.

Regardless of your musical tastes, the album is worth a listen. It blends seamlessly into the background, incorporating elements of electronic music and straight-forward rock with its subtle classical roots. The entire album rewards repeated listens, and some of the most memorable moments come not from the vocal melodies but from their engaging counter-play with the orchestra. If any of Pallett's other credits have made their way into your playlists over the last several years, there will be something to love on Heartlands. The future looks bright for this violinist; at the very least, you're unlikely to catch another album this year which uses the spectacularly un-sexy nasal timbre of the oboe to such great effect.

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