Album: Owen Pallett * * * * *
Owen Pallett has released two albums under the Final Fantasy moniker, but, as the Canadian is planning to make this third offering available in Japan, he has decided to dispense with a name taken from the video game that's as much part of Japanese life today as sushi and saki.
After making his name as the orchestral arranger on Arcade Fire's stunning debut album, Funeral, as well as working wonders with Andrew Bird and Patrick Wolf, he won the inaugural Polaris Award -- Canada's version of the Mercury -- for his second Final Fantasy album, the unforgettably titled He Poos Clouds. That was a very fine album. Heartland is even better.
Here is an intelligent, highly inventive baroque pop collection boasting frequently exhilarating orchestration. The opening track, Midnight Directives, is a dazzling collision of sounds and ideas and as gloriously uplifting as Handel's more exclamatory moments.
The quality rarely flags, and two tracks in particular -- Red Sun No. 5 and Lewis Takes Action -- show the progress that Pallett has made in the four years since his last album. Both songs display the sort of vaulting ambition that Sufjan Stevens brought to his now-aborted 50 States project. They boast a similar desire for texture and surprise, Pallett's vocals are never less than captivating and the subject matter is mysterious and open to interpretation.
Like many of the very best albums, this is one whose charms will only be revealed if the listener works too. But the rewards are manifold and anybody who adores the melodrama of Rufus Wainwright, the fey qualities of Jens Lekman and the otherworldly drive of Brian Wilson, circa Smile, will find plenty to love here.
Burn it: Midnight Directives; Red Sun No. 5; Lewis Takes Action