Wednesday 31 March 2010

Album review - Owen Pallett's Hearltand/Jason Collett's Rat A Tat Tat

This is my last album review for a little while - Im heading home to Australia for a few weeks over Easter - so I thought Id make it a double bill. As has been fairly clear over the short course of this blog thus far, Sonic Masala deals mainly in rock, and noisy rock at that (hence the Sonic of the title). However we aspire to recognise musical merit of all shapes and sizes (where we deem fit of course!) And so Im going for two albums that are decidely lower-key than usual.

Broken Social Scene are in institution, both of music in general and of the Canadian music scene in particular. The band have a turnstile of coming and going talent involved in their pastiches of musical genres, their only predictability being their unpredictability. We have seen member take flight on their own merit (Feist; Emily Haines, both as a solo artist and in Metric), and band members put out gear with Broken Social Scene flourishes (Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning in particular).

One band member that has flourished in his own world is Owen Pallett. the violin extraordinaire, he is the man that the likes of the Arcade Fire go to to bolster their string arrangements. Under the moniker of Final Fantasy, Pallett released a quirkily enjoyable album a few years ago called He Poos Clouds. Nuff said there. And although his newie, Heartland, is more generic in its title, and under his own name, it contains all the quirky elements that we have come to expect, this time in a lusher, more densely layered context - and is all the better for it.

Heartland showcases everything that is Owen Pallett, so it is great that he places this album under his own name. He is a true one man band - its hard to fathom how one person can create such intricate landscapes to let his musical vision dance the light fantastic in. The various percussive instruments, brass and strings, intermingling with electronic flourishes, are hard to fathom - so much is going on that each listen provides a new gem to gawp at, to savour, to fall in love with. The soaring opener "Midnight Flourishes" throws you straight into his world, with all of these elements on offer from the get go, and there is no letting up. "Lewis Takes His Shirt Off" is a five minute opus that enraptures as well as amuses; "Tryst With Mephistopheles" is a kaleidascopic amalgam of Postal Service twitches and Sound of Music grandeur and pomp (imagine Julie Andrews twirling around in a field of multicoloured flowers, fireworks going overhead, psychedelic stop motion creatures tugging the hems of her, I cant either...); "Flare Gun" comes across as a relation to something we would expect to hear in a Tim Burton directed Fantasia. And that is the key - this is truly a fantasy world we have entered, akin to Pallett's previous moniker. Now if only Burton's Alice had fallen down Heartland's rabbithole... This is something that I wouldn't normally champion - but I cannot get this album out of my head. A true album (Ive been saying that a bit this year...), it grows - no, morphs itself into you. Surreality has never been this fun, infectious, and beautiful.

Jason Collett is another active Broken Social Scene collaborator that has released an album this month, Rat A Tat Tat. We have mentioned his activities already this month - being a influence in the works of the band Zeus - so its time to monitor his own work. And what he has produced is pop folk mishmash that has its hand in Dylanesque territory, though with more 70s rock stylings and influences. "Rave On Sad Song" is a barroom drunken pint clinker, the honky tonk on the piano, the gentle strummings of an acoustic song, the effortless chorus. It builds from here, from the T-Rex meets Sgt Pepperish "Lake Superior" to the whimsical wonderings of "Winnipeg Winds". It is heavily influenced by other artists - nay, albums - but has Collett's swagger and pop nuances well in check.

It seems a little unfair to have these albums side by side though - Rat A Tat Tat is a lot of fun, but lacks the fantastical (there's that word derivation again) immersiveness that Heartland dishes out in spades. If this was a showdown, Pallett would take the undisputed crown. As they stand on their own, they are two terrific albums by two talented troubadours.

Owen Pallett - Lewis Takes His Shirt Off

Jason Collett - Rave On Sad Song

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