Canadian violinist Owen Pallett—he used to perform as Final Fantasy until a copyright-related name-change late last year—has a reputation for compositional prowess. He’s arranged albums for Beirut and Arcade Fire, worked with Pet Shop Boys, and on Heartland, his third solo album and first full-length since 2006’s He Poos Clouds, he’s created a videogame dreamscape befitting his old name: lush and synthetic, triumphant and tense, familiar and disconcertingly alien.
As on past albums, Heartland trades in looped and tweaked orchestral elements, jarring juxtapositions, and Pallett’s mannered and music-schooled voice. What makes Heartland distinct is its wild, sometimes over-the-top orchestration. The Czech Symphony Orchestra contributes to many of these songs, and Pallett made sure to get his money’s worth. On “The Great Elsewhere,” symphonic bombast switches off with electronic tension; “Keep The Dog Quiet,” which really gets the orchestra working, involves string stabs and maracas, and ends with a baroque orchestral climax. It calls to mind the aural acrobatics of Andrew Bird (to whom Pallett will forever be compared), contemporary classical composers like Nico Muhly (who appears on Heartland), and a steam locomotive. Occasionally it’s too much. Some tracks on Heartland are like listening to hundreds of violins at once, with all the dynamic subtlety that description doesn’t entail. But when the album works, it’s majestic and impossibly rich. Another point in its favor: It isn’t called He Poos Clouds.