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Tue, Mar 30, 2010
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Step into Pallett's orchestral fantasy

By Jill Alphonso

DON'T get Toronto-based composer and singer-songwriter Owen Pallett started on the Twilight franchise.

"That Twilight stuff is bullsh** compared to the stuff I'm making," he says in mock rage during a recent phone interview with my paper.

"I don't mean to say that my stuff is better than anyone else's, but man, that Twilight stuff is weak."

The guy - who has contributed remixes and orchestration for bands like Arctic Monkeys, Arcade Fire, Stars, and Grizzly Bear - stops to heave a sigh.

"And people say that I'm a f***ing nerd for writing songs about magic," he says with a laugh.

Perhaps it isn't strange to hear the multi-instrumentalist, who had worked under the name of Final Fantasy until the release of his third album - Heartland - earlier this year, speak of the fantastical - even if he is utterly panning one of the biggest fantasy franchises in the world.

After all, his orchestral works, from his debut album Has A Good Home (2005) to his second album, He Poos Clouds (2006), deal with fantastical worlds that Pallett, 30, has dreamt up.

Mostly, his work involves a boy named Lewis (who suggestively takes off his shirt in Heartland). Just who is Lewis, you may ask.

Softly, Pallett says: "He's an amalgamation of things that, to me, are the object of my desire but things that are unfamiliar to me.

"As a source for him, I was using my brothers and my friends, who live their lives different from me. They're beautiful people - they inform this "otherness", all the things I'm not."

If one detects a longing in Pallett's voice, he doesn't mind.

He's put all that into his brilliant sounds on Heartland, a sweeping pop record that employs everything he is known for - merging classical sounds with electronica in a different, brilliant way.

"Even before writing the score, I puzzled through different ways of using the orchestra in the way you would an analog synthesiser," says Pallett, who was classically trained in the violin but can wax lyrical about Midi files the way a DJ can.

"I aimed to make a record of analog aero-synth pop sounds."

The result? An ornate, spacious record of summery sounds that was released to favourable reviews.

New Musical Express magazine, for example, wrote that Heartland contains an "overflowing well of musical creativity that leaves you feeling like you've missed something crucial if you let your attention drift".

But, in the end, it's not the praise Pallett cares for, though it surely is nice.

Ask him what he is aiming to do with his music, and he thoughtfully replies: "I've heard records that have helped shift the direction that my life has taken. I'm so grateful to the bands that have done this.

"If any of my records were to do that for other people, that would make me an extremely happy person."

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No buy-out clause for Owen now