Tuesday, February 23, 2010

ARTIST: Owen Pallett
ALBUM: "Heartland"
Published on weru.org

On first listen, "Heartland," the new album from Owen Pallett (formerly known as Final Fantasy), is like some sort of strange movie soundtrack. This is his third studio album, the first released under his given name. Pallett’s voice is beautiful as it grows weak and strained with higher notes, reaching through the more upfront music. It is truly exciting, intellectual music that accomplishes the delicate balance of profound classical music and enjoyable alternative rock music.

Right near the beginning, the listener begins to fall. The 50-second “Mount Alpetine” interlude is falling off a mountain. The fierce strings of the song, evoke physical tension and sound as if Pallett is far away on that cold mountain. His big, breathy vocals sound like he's falling, taking in gulps of air and hollering out.

The music, however, is the focal point of the album. It dominates the voice, which is often quiet and detached. As in acting, however, sometimes it is most compelling to speak or sing quietly, when everything else around is so exciting and brash; the listeners are forced to sit on their haunches and try to listen over the noise. It is incredibly different to listen to "Heartland" on speakers than to listen to a more intimate "Heartland" in headphones or with your head leaned up close to the soft fabric of the speakers.

Horns, winds, and strings (the instrument that you tend to see with Pallett, who is a classically trained violinist) are present and active throughout this orchestral whirlwind. Though in the ears of some, orchestral pieces can be drab, "Heartland" is fun. There are cartoony sounds and influence from world music, as in “Flare Gun.” Pallett then takes those classical instruments and changes their usual style in the bass work on “Keep the Dog Quiet,” a song that makes you feel as if you are stalking about the library in the Clue board game, desperately trying to learn who killed Mr. Boddy.

By the midpoint of the album, “The Great Elsewhere” explodes. That is where my emotional connection to the album was completely secured. One may feel like she is watching a movie very closely, crying or wanting to cry, during a montage of someone running. Perhaps Pallett channeled the world’s emotional connection to Forrest Gump.

Though there are weird sounds coming out of the musical space, most likely manipulation of some sort of digital machine, Pallett's sometimes danceable tracks retain a classical, sophisticated style, while still fitting comfortably in the alternative rock genre. The music is pure excitement that knows how to settle itself, and you'll grow fonder with every listen. It is wonderfully content, as stated in “Oh Heartland, Up Yours!”: “If I only had a rowboat, I would row it up to heaven. And if heaven will not have me, I will take the other option. I will seek out my own satisfaction.”

Suggested tracks: "The Great Elsewhere," "Flare Gun," "Oh Heartland, Up Yours!"

See also: Beirut, Patrick Wolf, St. Vincent.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Hope Sandoval and the Warm Inventions, "Through the Devil Softly"

Review Published: 12/22/09

It is the voice, the voice of a woman that is half-mumbling, wispy, and soft, that is the most remarkable. Hope Sandoval, who has lent that voice to Mazzy Star, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Air, and Massive Attack, and her band mate, Colm Ó Cíosóig of My Bloody Valentine, make up Hope Sandoval and the Warm Inventions, a group heavily influenced by their past excursions. It is experimental, yes, melancholy and dreamy, with some alternative country vibes. The follow-up to the first album, "Bavarian Fruit Bread," works in a sort of wave, like Maine spring weather, the sad, wintery storm that eventually thaws, just to see the snow again.
"Blanchard" opens the album with sad, downtrodden verses, giving way to a more peaceful chorus. Both acoustic and electric guitar are very loud and critical to the composition of the whole album, yet percussion, oddly enough, is absent. This piece in particular is astounding, as Sandoval's mumbles are juxtaposed with a slide guitar and notably an acoustic with unedited string squeaks. This track dribbles into "Wild Roses," a song that can be classified solely as sweet and complacent, like the sun when it's cold. In "For the Rest of Your Life," experimental, nearly catchy sounds have roots in My Bloody Valentine, The Jesus and Mary Chain, and Mazzy Star. Sandoval's voice is an instrument in itself. She is not the ideal of "rock star" but a humble singer for the sake of art.
"Sets the Blaze" extends the softness into the crank and slow unwinding of a snow globe. I used to have one that would trill out "Born Free." The slow cranking as it unwinds is haunting, nostalgic. Percussion makes a brief appearance for moments with the sounds of the wind. One senses much impending doom. In fact, the album as a whole has moments where one can imagine it as a background to an urgent thriller and spy movie. The sound warms, however, like ice cracking around the halfway point of the album with "There's a Willow." The track is more alternative country, with roots of Americana flowing through it. Light percussion adds a bit of a pulse, the water that runs down the sides of the road with warmer weather. This is a true changing point in the album.
The temperature spikes as "Trouble" bursts off the record with loud percussion (comparatively) and guitar riffs that remind me of The Doors with a female, much more reserved front person. The blues of Sandoval's voice peaks. There is much less sleeping, and much more swaying. Sandoval seems to take more control over what was a passive sadness of lyrics and mood, speaking to the emotional detachment of the album.
The album, however, is a bit anticlimactic, as the final track, "Satellite," is rather boring. "Through the Devil Softly" is certainly no masterpiece, but I think few could deny it is very delicate and quite pretty. The cyclical nature of the record is almost frustrating, as the final track brings us back to the world of soft, melancholy music, back to the beginning. The ultimate pattern of "Through the Devil Softly" resembles just that: some dark, experimental themes that tread very softly. Everyone who can stand the background music when they go to bed at night deserves most of these tracks on their sleep playlist.

See tracks "Trouble," "Wild Roses," and "Sets the Blaze."