Well, Owen Pallett is mortal.
Performing as Final Fantasy, Pallett is deservedly Toronto music royalty, perhaps the city’s best artist and definitely one of its most fawned-over (especially by us). His recordings, live shows, and contributions to bands such as Beirut and the Arcade Fire earned him his sainthood in record time; it’s been only three and a half years since his first record was released, and for some time now Toronto hasn’t been able to keep him our little secret. To satiate the throngs of fans desperate for anything new, and with his next full-length, Heartland, pushed back for the thousandth time because (as he told Misshapes.com) “it is hard for me to say no to collaborating with people,” Blocks Recording Club is about to release two limited-run EPs—which have already leaked, naturally, and which prove that not everything that Pallett touches turns to gold.
First, there’s Spectrum, 14th Century, the better of the two releases. Coming out at the end of this month, some of the five songs (particularly “Blue Imelda,” “The Butcher,” and “Cockatrice”) ought to be familiar to fans, as Pallett’s had the tracks on his setlists for at least the past year and a half. Recorded outdoors in Quebec with everyone from Beirut, the record—if nothing else—is a welcome five-song reminder of why we freak out over basically everything Final Fantasy does. “Blue Imelda,” “Cockatrice,” and “Oh, Spectrum” manage to be unnerving and triumphant and pretty all at once, while “The Butcher” is Pallett at his best, the same kind of slightly sad but wholly beautiful song that “The CN Tower Belongs to the Dead” and “This Lamb Sells Condos” were.
But then there’s the October EP, Plays to Please. Take it from here, press release we received! “It is six songs written by Toronto genius Alex Lukashevsky, delivered by a 35-piece big band, including Nick Fraser (Drumheller), Paul Mathew (The Hidden Cameras) and Andrew Bird.” Which sounds like it’d either be pretty great or catastrophically bad, but still fascinating and challenging, right? Problem is, Plays to Please falls somewhere in the middle: it doesn’t do much pleasing or polarizing; instead, it’s mostly forgettable, nowhere near as fantastic as Spectrum or the two-song Tomlab Alphabet Series disc Pallett released in 2007, or anything at all on his full-length records. All over-dramatic circus melodies and twinkly orchestration, Plays to Please is how people who don’t like Final Fantasy hear Final Fantasy.
So we’ll have to call this one a draw, then, and hope that Heartland is everything like Spectrum and nothing at all like Plays to Please. If the live songs Pallett’s been kicking around for a while but left off Spectrum—such as “All That They Know”—are any indicator, though, the newly fallible Pallett may yet prove himself divine once again.
Photo of Pallett at his Danforth Music Hall concert at the end of August by Anahita Farahani