For all the talk and theory behind postmodernism and the breaking of the walls between classical and popular music, there are many less artists actually creating music under its framework. Owen Pallett, however, is one of those artists, and his third LP, Heartland, is a visionary album with a convincing position on the issue. Having received a bachelor's degree in music composition, Pallett went on to start a solo career with just his violin and a loop pedal, while also collaborating with some of the indie's biggest bands to fund it. Writing orchestral arrangements for bands like Grizzly Bear, The Mountain Goats, and Arcade Fire, he has become the working craftsman of the indie world. Indeed, on Heartland, Pallett's boldest and most mature artistic statement, he trashes the idea that one needs anything less than the Czech Philharmonic to create sincere and effecting pop. And while this is certainly pop, Owen Pallett is writing some of the most sophisticated and complex tunes out there, not shying away from chords and compositional techniques he no doubt learned from both listening to musicals and attending theory classes at music school. Opening with the blaring organs and off-kilter percussion of "Midnight Directives", Pallett shows off how exciting and unexpected this kind of genre-crossing can be. While his vocal quality seems tamed and trained, Pallett's arrangements are theatrical and bombastic, sounding like a odd mix between Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd soundtrack and Joanna Newsom's Ys.
What makes Heartland especially significant though, is how Pallett's orchestration is so fundamental to its composition, rather than ornamental (like most music that is labeled symphonic or chamber pop). In songs like "Keep the Dog Quiet" and "Oh Heartland, Up Yours!", plucked strings and orchestral woodwinds happily take the place of guitars, with Pallett cooing agreeable melodies of doubt and faith over the top. In "Lewis Takes off His Shirt", Pallett effortlessly combines orchestral elements with bubbly synthesizers and electronic drums, building a sound that is incredibly unique and forward-looking. Owen, along with a few others (such as Nico Muhly and Sufjan Stevens), lives as a diplomat that is willing to shake hands on both sides of the classical-pop music aisle, while also existing in a kind of world of his own. This is not to imply that his music is easily accepted on either side of the spectrum, but instead that it is in the business of messy reconciliation between the musical forces. And fortunately for us, for all the big ideas behind the music, Heartland never feels stuffy or academic. This is Owen Pallett at both his sharpest and most accessible, bursting with ideas and creativity, and boldly opening up doors that pop musicians have been knocking on for years.