Former Final Fantasy mastermind Owen Pallett’s voice is one of my favorites in music right now. On Heartland’s opening song, “Midnight Directives,” it floats alongside the violin lines, reaching high and stretching across the track, taking it in beautiful directions that both fit and conflict beautifully with the insistent drums and electronic elements. The song ends abruptly, and the next, “Keep the Dog Quiet,” begins as abruptly, with a staccato string line and quiet maraca accompaniment.
Heartland is noisier and more electronic than any previous Final Fantasy album, which makes sense given the experimental nature of the project. Pallett wrote Heartland as an opera about a peasant named Lewis, who is ordered by his God (named Owen, no less) to lead a revolt. Pallett posted all the lyrics to Heartland online in October 2009, giving fans months to pour over the poetry of the words before hearing them set to music.
The girl-group inspired melody in “Lewis Takes Action” directly conflicts with the violence in the lyrics: “I took No-Face by his beak and broke his jaw, he’ll never speak again.” “The Great Elsewhere” is a beautiful song that ends in a crisis of faith about “the indifferences of the Storyteller.” Heartland is not only beautiful to listen to, but a joy to unfold and interpret the world Pallett has created in this album.
The album ends with a question: “What Do You Think Will Happen Now?” Pallett absolutely succeeds at keeping the listener thoroughly engaged, but always with that question of marvelous uncertainty. If you like your indie music literary and elusive, Heartland is a challenge and a delight.