Friday, March 19th, 2010

Owen Pallett – Lewis Takes Off His Shirt

Probably the first time we’ve reviewed someone after they’ve left us a comment


Anthony Easton: There is a group of artists in Toronto who are reworking magik as a kind of relational aesthetic — connected to a lo-fi craft, and an unironic belief in what was previously called kitsch. You can see it in the Fastwurms, Will Munro, Andrew Harwood, some of Allyson Mitchell’s pieces, and also some writing — the novel Spells by RM Vaughan, the music of the Hidden Cameras, and others.

Michaelangelo Matos: If by “I’m never gonna give it to you,” Owen Pallett means a payoff, or some grit, or a sense of frenzy that isn’t polite, then he might as well send the string players home, because it ain’t happening. It starts impressively, with programmed synths and hi-hats and, eventually, fluttering strings and electro-oboes that set the table for something big and satisfying. And instead it just stays at about the same level of ornate and becomes more about the strings. Earlier he just says, “Give it to you,” and that’s what I wish had happened; whatever the lyrics are “about,” as Pallett intends them, I can’t help but hear them signify promise and refusal to deliver.

Alfred Soto: I like how the strings swoop and flutter over the sequencer. What keeps this from orgasm is Pallett’s determinedly charmless voice. I know Phil Oakey and Stephin Merritt have set self-mocking dolor to synth beats and triumphed, but I hear no homo superior in Pallett’s interior.

Alex Macpherson: There’s a brief moment at the start of “Lewis Takes Off His Shirt” when it seems Owen Pallett is going to actually give in to the grandeur that this song demands, but it’s a false dawn; the retreat to fussy little trills and emotionally timid vocals is swift and inevitable, like a rabbit darting back into its burrow. And Pallett’s idea of a composition is still all ornamentation and no substance.

Martin Skidmore: There’s barely a song here at all. I can imagine him making some appealing instrumentals, but the fifth-rate voice is all over this.

John Seroff: Owen Pallett’s 2006 debut solo album He Poos Clouds was as enjoyable as his title was ill-advised. Pallett, now DBA his government name (presumably he grew popular enough that his prior alias of “Final Fantasy” caught the eye of Squeenix lawyers), took four good years to produce his follow-up album but damn if it wasn’t worth the wait; Heartland is beautifully, densely populated. Pallett’s voice is flat, warm, declarative and enthrallingly monotone. He’s a disarming meat-and-potatoes singer/songwriter in the Leonard Cohen mold and a Jaime Hernandez storyteller, unwinding sweeping narratives of recognizable and deeply personal, unblinking mundanity residing just south of the sacred. Hand-in-hand with the quotidian, Pallet laces a thickly orchestrated churn with bubbly, elfin melody. The result is a kind of magical reality for the jaded optimist, extolling the mystical, mythical weight of boys on Grecian urns and american apparel models alike. This is understandably not catnip for everyone but it certainly resonates for me. “Lewis Takes Off His Shirt” might be the best song on Heartland; it is thrilling, inscrutable, apprehensive and very much alive. If I’m waxing adjectivally rhapsodic here, it’s only because Pallett puts me in that mind and it’s such a lovely place to visit.

Ian Mathers: Live, Pallett is mesmerizing with just his violin, his voice, and some loop pedals; on record, where he has the infinite possibilities of the studio and other musicians to play with, he often comes off as overly busy and formal to me. “Lewis Takes Off His Shirt” is full of interesting choices and gorgeous surfaces, but it’s only when Pallett starts repeating “I’m never going to give it to you” that I start really caring.

Iain Mew: Maybe some of my love for Pallett comes from nostalgiac familiarity with the fantasy tropes that he uses and affectionately undercuts. The adolescent on his horse setting out against all odds? That’s the stuff I read/watched/played as far back as I can remember, though the foe being the author is a fine twist. This is way, way too vivid and vital for mere nostalgia though, taking the epic journey theme and running with it as his ever more intricate arrangements open up a new, wider vista with every verse. It’s also got enough surreal inventive imagery (“thousand watt head and seven inches of echo”) to create a world as beguiling and a stirring chorus that raises pure defiance to a noble level. If he was still Final Fantasy, this would be Final Fantasy VI, and that’s pretty bloody great.

Alex Ostroff: Admittedly the conceit of the album is totally over-the-top and weird and it all somehow pulls together in spite of this (or more likely because of it). And this single — well, essentially it’s the railing of a disillusioned and violent religious zealot/hot young farmer against his Creator. But it grants its subject dignity and reality, and by dint of this is less about the world Owen has created and more about empowerment, resistance and perseverance in tangible and relateable ways. ‘I’ve been praised for all the ways the marble leaves the man, and I was wrong to try and free him,’ is simultaneously a two-line parable about an uncaring and fallible God, a peek into the psyche of an artist, and one of the most beautifully constructed lyrics I’ve heard this year.

Doug Robertson: A sound taken directly from a Technicolor cartoon and a voice that has more than a passing acquaintance with the Kings of Convenience, this is perfect travelling music, proving that the word “Train” doesn’t have to mean “unremittingly awful” when it comes to music. The scenery passes by with a gorgeous clackety-clack as you relax in the peaceful luxury of a first class cabin. Turns out it is better to travel than to arrive.

16 Responses to “Owen Pallett – Lewis Takes Off His Shirt”

  1. I couldn’t make heads or tails of this.

  2. But the usual suspects voted for it!

  3. Yeah — wrote I think three blurbs, somewhere between 5 and 6 (probably would have settled on 6) and thought they were all horrible. Lex gets to my actual criticism of this which is that it feels like ornamentation rather than substance, but it is pretty ornamentation. Parts, anyway.

  4. Sadly, all this entry really does for me is remind me how much I hate rabid “My Girls” fans.

    Rightly or wrongly, I feel bad about my lack of love for Pallett’s recorded output. In a lot of ways he’s an artist I really like and respect, but as much as I expect to enjoy his albums they have yet to really hit me. His live cover of “The Power of Love” is a thing of true beauty, though.

  5. i didn’t say this in my excessively overwrought blurb, but what stops it from being a ten for me is the feeling that I’m being held at arm’s length; I never get emotionally wrapped up with Pallett, even when I love the music.

  6. Yeah, “respectable” is about it.

  7. John: Heartland is his third album. 2005’s Has a Good Home was the debut, which I think is a lot more guilty of emotional distance and is very patchy, but is worth checking out for “This is the Dream of Win and Regine” (now there’s a title that won’t win any fans here).

    I really like Doug’s blurb for expressing so well the appeal of this as scenery while others criticise it for the same! And I am the opposite of Ian in that I like his live show but not nearly as much as his albums, which I love more the more he moves away from the limitations of his voice/violin.

  8. Guys, don’t ever feel about disliking anything!

    John, can you explain what you mean by not feeling “emotionally wrapped up” in this song? Distance is often a very good thing.

  9. I listened to the album the other day and I think I liked the arrangements and lushness a lot more than the actual songs. This might mean I absolutely love it come December, mind, but I’m not sure about his voice, it doesn’t seem quite up to the grandeur he’s aiming for.

  10. Obviously, if every song on Heartland were constructed the exact way he does them live, every single song would just grow out of a loop, and it would end up tiring. Watching youtube videos of this song played live, though, makes me think the live arrangement works much better for this song, as it already seems to have a clear structural build. specifically. Much more wallop at the end.

  11. surprised i missed owen’s second album; i guess i’ll be hunting for that now!

    re: “emotionally wrapped up”, i just don’t get anything visceral from pallett. He doesn’t sweep me off my feet or jab me in the reptile brain. It’s just relentlessly pretty and intellectually enjoyable.

  12. er “first album”

  13. i think that ornamentation is important, i do not think that it is flutter for the sake of flutter–i think decoration and ritually are vital.

  14. So do I, but there needs to be something there for them to ornament. This song was all frosting and no cake for me.

  15. there is cake, its lyrical and contextual and magical and vital, and v. lococentric though.

  16. “Guys, don’t ever feel about disliking anything!”

    Alfred has the best typos.