New album lacks typical energy and cohesiveness

For those unfamiliar with Owen Pallett, he is the person behind the artist pseudonym Final Fantasy. Before his third full-length album Heartland was released, Pallett was forced by a lawsuit courtesy of what should be a rather obvious entity to drop the Final Fantasy name.

Final fantasy · Heartland is Owen Pallett’s first release since being forced to change his stage name or risk a copyright infringement suit. - Photo courtesy of Domino Records

Under that moniker, Pallett released two solid albums and proved himself to be an enigmatic live performer. Whether he is just now comfortable enough to go with his real name or if he just could not come up with another stage name, the artist formally known as Final Fantasy has chosen to please his mother and stick with the name she chose for him.

Since his live shows are one-man affairs utilizing a violin and a lot of instrumental looping, it’s almost fitting that any pretenses this artist might be a band are dropped. From now on, listeners are getting the real Owen Pallett — for better or worse. Unfortunately, it might be worse.

Theatrical, captivating tracks like “Keep The Dog Quiet” are reminiscent of Final Fantasy classics. It will be fascinating to see him playing and looping to build this track from scratch. His incredible ­— no kidding, absolutely incredible — vocals enter singing, My body is a cage / This union is a cage / About a cage / About a cage. The album is exhilarating at this point; perhaps this is a great addition to the Owen Pallett/Final Fantasy repetoire.

During a cursory listen, ears might scan past the short track, “Mount Alpertine,” and another standout “Lewis Takes Action.” Unfortunately, Owen Pallett fans are more meticulous and should be upset by the former track and those like it. “Mount Alpertine” feels like Final Fantasy-in-a-can. For an artist like Pallett, whose dramatic style moves his music into the realm of orchestral works, even the brief 49 seconds that the track takes up are crucial. An album like this needs fluidity, and the triteness of the album’s weakest tracks is jarring.

It feels pretty easy to say that this is a less impressive effort than his previous outings and though Heartland as a standalone album is enjoyable, it is not his best. The theatrics at first seem typical of the artist, but at the end of the weaker tracks an aura of over-sentimentality arises, as if they were b-sides from the Moulin Rouge! soundtrack. Pallett has never been lazy before, but the weak tracks are missing energy. Yeah, it’s stronger than many artists at their best, but fans expect more.

At its best — with “Keep the Dog Quiet” and “What Do You Think Will Happen Now?” — Heartland walks a breathtaking line between melodrama and post-punk, and nobody walks that line as well as Pallett. At its weakest — with “Mount Alpentine” and “E is For Estranged” — the album distracts completely from those strong moments. Pallett’s talent has always been his ability to create cohesiveness and plasticity, but the album stops Pallett from achieving this completely.

This album could certainly prove to be one that grows more appealing with time. For such an immediately charismatic performer, however, it’s perplexing that Pallett feels distant or restrained on the weak tracks. Where’s the vigor that countless audiences can confirm is well within the reach of this artist? Most likely — or at least hopefully — this is a recording mistake and hopefully will be ironed out before these songs see stage-light.

His obvious fervor for his art would suggest that Pallett is not easily deterred, and these songs should not turn away anyone interested in seeing the artist formally known as Final Fantasy in concert. In fact, many tracks from Heartland might be greatly improved by some live energy.

That’s the most telling issue with the album: All the ingredients are present for another excellent Pallett outing, but a certain energy seems to be lacking from the recordings. Despite the promise of the energetic high points of the album, his missing ingredients hinder it from being on par with his previous two releases.