Owen Pallett (previously Final Fantasy) is a composer, collaborator and multi-instrumentalist originally from Toronto, now hailing from Montreal. A brilliant violinist, Pallett reportedly began his training at the tender age of 3, with original composition beginning in his teens (for video games, of all things). Pallett could be equated to Canada’s answer to Andrew Bird and is comfortably nestled amongst the most technically proficient performers in all indie music.
I recently had the opportunity to see Pallett play live – probably the greatest display of talent one can find in indie. He is an open book with honest convictions on just about any topic – from critiques of modern music to sexual orientation to food preferences, he makes his unabridged opinions known. When asked about the reasoning for his name change, Pallett reminded the interviewer that a full written explanation was posted on his website, and that it’s also a “boring answer to a boring question”. This cheeky jesting is part of what separates Pallett from the herd, permeating his music in the form of witty experimentation.
Joining much of the world’s music listeners as having the equivalent of a preschool knowledge of music theory, I doubt I’m alone in considering some of Pallett’s music challenging, unconventional, and in moments borderline cacophonous. Nevertheless, his more pop-friendly and immediately relatable music has pulled me in and guided by hand a few steps outside the immediate comfort zone of 4-4 time, pentatonic scales and break-up-make-up lyrical themes, into the music world crafted only by the truly exceptional.
Pallett was one of the first to heavily integrate looping into a live set. Collaborating with software developers, they created novel recording software controllable on the fly with minimal adulteration the original constructions. He does this to intentionally give an “off-balance” feel that sounds more organic and human, sending separate arrangements to strategically placed speakers around the stage, admirably approximating the sonics of an ensemble. While most bands opt for click-tracks and pre-recorded samples, Pallett maintains an element of imperfection, humility and vulnerability. This leads to a high flying trapeze-type performance where the audience is in jaw-dropped awe while simultaneously cringing in hopes that all turns out well for the artist. Indeed, Pallet confesses to what he considers at least 1 major blunder in each performance, but that challenge is something that has guided him to excellence.
As Final Fantasy, Pallett released 3 EPs and 2 LPs, his most recognizable being the sophomore full-length “He Poos Clouds” (yes, that’s what it’s called) which won the 2006 Polaris Music Prize. I’ll admit I’ve dug retrospectively to approximately the asthenosphere of his work, but I do vouch for that album as an intriguing, often perplexing and occasionally brilliant listen; difficult but ultimately rewarding. However, it was when he assumed his own name that I believe Pallett found his best. LPs “Heartland” and “In Conflict” pictured above, as well as interim EP “A Swedish Love Story” provide truly masterful songwriting, both long plays being deservingly short-listed again for Polaris. You can also find Pallett’s arrangements on albums by Caribou, Arcade Fire, Grizzly Bear, Foxes in Fiction and many more.
Favourite track: Lewis Takes Off His Shirt… despite a chaotic frenzy of stage crew and rainfall, the guy charms, delivers and basically lights his bowstrings on fire.