Toronto-based singer/songwriter/composer/violinist Owen Pallett’s Final Fantasy project officially ended its public affair with the beloved Japanese video game of the same name (he has promised to release subsequent albums under his legal name) with Heartland, a 12-song conceptual piece concerning “a young, ultra-violent farmer named Lewis set in the imaginary landscape of Spectrum.” To be fair, Pallett’s last release, the superb He Poos Clouds was an “an eight-song cycle about the eight schools of magic in Dungeons & Dragons” adorned with a cover that included a hand-drawn rendering of the action described in the title. As with all of his works, Heartland wears its absurd premise high and proud, allowing its creator the freedom to explore the entire spectrum of human emotion without ever succumbing to hipster irony. Pallett, the shifty, strung-out composition major in the back of the class, bored to tears and three steps ahead of the professor, chose to go the orchestral route this time around, utilizing the talented Czech Philharmonic in Prague. Fans of He Poos Clouds’ long, dissonant motifs, odd, symphonic percussion, and slightly skewed, indie-prog-rock vibe will find Heartland a bigger, better, and more streamlined collection than the latter was, boasting more than its share of left-field singles ("Midnight Directives" and "Tryst with Mephistopheles" are instant keepers) -- think Grizzly Bear, Patrick Wolf, and Rufus Wainwright attempting an alternate universe mash-up of the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds and the Flaming Lips’ Soft Bulletin. It’s a wide, spacious, summer storm of a record that bounces around genres like an open-world RPG game, and while there may be only 12 locations you can fast-travel to, there is enough treasure in each to keep the adventurer occupied for a month of afternoons.
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AllMusic Review by James Christopher Monger