Heartland is the third and final studio album from renowned Toronto multi-instrumentalist Final Fantasy. Well, not exactly. The band, or rather project, primarily consisting of Owen Pallet (though percussionist Leon Taheny has received credit as well) is retiring its current name – which is conspicuously shared by a videogame franchise – and opting instead for the moniker “Owen Pallet” from now on. That said, Heartland serves as both an epilogue and a prologue: a testament to the artist’s Polaris Music Prize-winning past, as well as a taste of what’s to come in the future.
Listening to Heartland from start to finish for the first time can be disorienting. A blend of Sufjan Stevens and The Postal Service might be the closest comparison, but it’s still lacking. No genre (or combination of genres) can adequately describe Pallet’s latest eclectic compositions. And they are, above all, compositions: Pallet displays his skill on an array of string instruments, of which his trademark instrument, the violin, is prominently featured.
Though you can hear bits of Pallet’s earlier albums throughout, Heartland is definitely a departure; the use of electronic effects on songs like “The Great Elsewhere” and “Lewis Takes Off His Shirt” adds new layers to his repertoire, which in the past had sounded more stripped down.
Standout tracks include “Lewis Takes Action” which combines a basic beat accompanied by chaotic trills and one of the best vocal displays on the album, and “E for Estranged,” a beautiful song notably featuring a piano waltz, but where the string section truly remains king.
There’s no question that Heartland is challenging, but that doesn’t mean it’s not enjoyable. It’s frenzied, but skillfully conceived. And though it may be confusing, it is not incomprehensible. But it will probably take more than one listen to really appreciate.