Spectrum, 14th Century
Label: Blocks Recording Club/For Great Justice
Owen Pallett doesn’t make bad music. The classically trained pianist and violinist has written and performed string arrangements for The Hidden Cameras, Beirut and most famously The Arcade Fire. But it is the 29-year-old’s solo project, Final Fantasy, that brings out Pallett’s full range as a composer, performer and storyteller. With two critically acclaimed albums already under the Final Fantasy moniker, Pallett has released a pair of EPs to hold listeners over as he puts the finishing touches on his highly anticipated full-length Heartland.
The first of these EPs, entitled Spectrum, 14th Century, is arguably Pallett’s most impressive work to date. Running just under 18 minutes, the five tracks cover 100 years of a kingdom’s decline at the hand’s of a merciless god, appropriately named Owen. The local deity Owen watches as the kingdom (not the publication) Spectrum falls to squatters and sexual deviants. Theses could be written analyzing the lyrics but it is the arrangements that deserve the most attention. Owen avoids the violin hooks that made songs like “(This is) The Dream of Will and Regine” and “Many Lives>49 MP” fan favorites and instead fills Spectrum, 14th Century with lush, dense arrangements that hardly seem like harbingers of an oncoming apocalypse.
“Oh, Spectrum,” the EP’s first track, begins with carefree nature sounds but quickly crescendos to a steamrolling march that is so syncopated, the harmonious bird chirps are promptly gridlocked out. As the story progresses, the music becomes less intimidating, featuring steel drums, keyboard swells and the first ever Final Fantasy digital drumbeat. While the lyrics are ominous and damning, the music gets brighter, until the last track, “The Ballad of No-Face,” when the unfrozen prophet wanders amongst doomed sinners, completely satisfied with their fate.
Spectrum,14th Century is Pallett’s most complete idea. Final Fantasy’s first album, Has A Good Home, showed endless promise but felt like a lot of filler. He Poos Clouds, the acclaimed second album, capitalized on Pallett’s talent for arrangement but often offered vocals that could not match the excitement of the music. On Spectrum, 14th Century, Pallett still demonstrates these weaknesses but consciously fights them. Still, his melodies, especially towards the end of “The Ballad of No-Face,” sit too far on top of the music to be seamless and fails to move with the time signature. The lyrics seem to have been written without concern for how well they would fit the instrumentation.
Make no mistake though, Spectrum, 14th Century is a huge step forward in Final Fantasy’s already impressive catalog. While countless similar outfits toy with string arrangements, Final Fantasy alone approaches indie music from a classical standpoint. After listening to the varied instruments and complex arrangements of Spectrum, 14th Century, one has to wonder, “How the hell is Pallett going to be able to do this by himself live?”
by Brian Loeper