Of Final Fantasies and Fatalist Farmers
Feb 02, 2010 Issue #30 - Winter 2010 - Vampire Weekend Photography by Ryan Pfluger
When Owen Pallett (who recently dropped the stage name Final Fantasy due to legal concerns) opened for Grizzly Bear at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in early 2009, it was evident from the songs he was debuting that something special was in the works. The songs were gorgeously rendered, with Pallett's meticulously looped violin undulating through the cavernous venue like placid waves on a beach. Fast forward to late 2009, when early promos of Pallett's latest record, Heartland, were sent to journalists. The tracks that premiered in Brooklyn still resonated, as if the show had just taken place.
Upon hearing this, Pallett responds: "It's very interesting, I was recently listening to the top 100 songs of 2009 on Pitchfork, and everything fucking sounds the same! It all sounds like the same compressors, the same tools used to make the drumbeat. I'm speaking strictly at a musical geeky level. But it's like people aren't trying to create something new, like, 'Oh, I've got Logic, lets make a beat.' This sounds so pretentious. Just forget that I said it," he laughs.
Well, Pallett is certainly on to something; there's a cookie-cutter mentality prevalent in modern indie music, geared to grab the attention of listeners right off the bat. He brings up Scott Walker's The Drift as a recent record that he admires, enthusing, "It's so aggressive. Every single sound on it has such an incredible impact. I don't think he used any single instrument on it the way it's supposed to be used," a methodology Pallett even nods to on the braying white noise wash of Heartland vignette "Mount Alpentine."
Despite the fact that the record's loosely based upon the travails of an ultra-violent farmer named Lewis and his struggles with spiritualism, Pallett is adamant that he did not set out to have an overriding theme. "I wanted to make a record where the concept of it or the process of it couldn't overshadow the record. It's just an album," he says. "I like working this way, instead of placing limits. Yeah, there's some ideas I had in my head, like making a synth-pop record, and there's a little narrative there. But that's all inconsequential."
And he's right. The album's ambitious and challenging, and that should be enough. But will it? Its songs often segue into one another and seem truncated when removed from their context. An album-oriented approach such as this doesn't lend itself to easily digestible MP3 soundbites. "We worked really hard to make it as beautiful-sounding as possible, and I was trying to ignore that people were going to listen to an MP3 for 10 seconds," Pallett says. "A far better distillation of this is tUnE-YaRds. I wondered why she spelled her name that way. Then I read this interview and she said, 'I just wanted to get people to slow down.' That is fucking genius! I'm going to slow down when I type tUnE-YaRds now. But Heartland is just a record that needs to be listened to as a whole, and I hope people are willing to slow down and do so."
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