Learn to keep your mouth shut Owen Pallett

September 11, 2007 at 7:23 pm (music)

Owen Pallett

I have gotten more into last.fm lately, and am finding it vastly more useful than my former favourite, Pandora.com. Last.fm just has more music it seems, and the recommendations are much more apt (Ace of Base in my “Goldfrapp Radio”, Pandora.com, really?). So last.fm recently introduced me to a young Canadian artist who calls himself Final Fantasy (wikipedia) to the unending confusion of my friends. Which, by the way, means mega geek points for said friends so it’s all good. I downloaded Final Fantasy’s first album, Has a Good Home, from emusic.com (another music site I’m starting to have some issues with), and listened to it semi-compulsively for a few days. It’s a refreshing change, one man, Owen Pallett with a violin backed up with samplers and the occasional brass section, concocting melodies that are eerie and beautiful, and fitting in perfectly with the freak folk trend spearheaded by Joanna Newsom, CocoRosie, and also artists not on my iPod. But somehow I couldn’t get 100% behind Final Fantasy. It was like listening to a really talented high school kid – there’s lots of promise, but some aspect is missing.

Nevertheless, when last.fm told me Final Fantasy was coming to Helsinki, I had to go. And the feeling I was left with was similar to the album. Owen Pallett’s musicianship was better (there are a few iffy violin bits on Has a Good Home), and he must take serious balls of a very heavy metal to get up on stage all on your own again and again. Pallett did weel, even though he is not the showman of the century. He did some interesting covers, including “Dream Lover” which he was haggled into performing, and played with a little reluctance. But again it felt like there was something missing, perhaps an emotional connection? Final Fantasy mocks the very art folk music scene it springs out of (Pallett used to play with Arcade Fire), to the extent that the second album, a concept piece rife with Prokofievian neo-classical polyrhythmics and string sections, is called He Poos Clouds, and the lyrics feature topics like erectile dysfunction caused by excessive size of the genitalia. This mockery doesn’t really register as sarcasm for me, rather it sounds like Pallet is mocking not only the music industry, but also his listeners. He is a talented composer, and can create haunting songs so impressive that I find myself reluctantly disregarding the ever-present poop joke.

Speculations on the attitude of the artist aside, another aspect of the performance that made it less than fantastic for me was an inevitable feature of Pallet’s style.  As he is alone on stage with just his violin and a sampler, but makes songs with harmonics and orchestrations, every song by necessity begins slowly and tentatively. First he taps a beat, records it into a loop, plays  some  harmonics on top of the rhythm, then a counterpoint, and finally, the melody. All songs start with delicate, fragile strands that slowly build up into a full-fledged piece. Intriguing, absolutely, but after an hour, I was craving for one song to just start, without this disturbingly fragile preamble and confusion of “what is this?” “where is he going?” and “shit, he missed a beat there, he’ll have to start over!”.

The gig was entertaining. I got to mingle with the painfully trendy, and it was interesting to see what stage mannerisms a violinist can assume in a world overrun with guitars. Creating a distant screaming sound by shouting into the violin’s mike instead of the mike on the stand was a cool idea, but when Pallett shoved his bow down the back of his t-shirt to keep it handy while he got to a pizzicato bit, I was a little shocked at this cavalier handling of an instrument. Which, of course, only goes to show I have no  rock’n’roll in my soul. Also, I really can’t help but like an artist who will dress up as a sailor for his promo shoot and reference Zelda in his lyrics.

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