Tag Archives: Owen Pallett

Top 30 Albums of 2014

“It’s been a long time baby and it has been a rough road.” – Mariah Carey, Home Shopping Network

I feel like this quote from the elusive chanteuse herself (whose latest album effort is most definitely not included in my top 30) adequately sums up the year in music, as well as most things in my life, like putting together this list of my Top 30 Albums of 2014.

This list is all over the place, as expected. There were releases from artists that I knew, even before hearing, would end up in the top 10. There were releases from artists that I thought would end up at the top that didn’t even stick. There was one release from a particular Canadian artist that I knew I would love, but didn’t expect to be my favorite album of the year.

And so, as we turn down the lights on 2014, I’m looking at this list and I’m liking a lot of what happened. Here’s hoping you did too.

30. Damien Juardo – Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Sun

Damien-Jurado-Brothers-And-Sisters-Of-The-Eternal-Son-608x608

Damien Juardo said this album “is about a guy who disappears on a search, if you will, for himself and never goes home,” which is kind of like what happened to me when I moved to Boulder, so that’s fun.

Favorite Track: “Silver Katherine”

29. Conor Oberst – Upside Down Mountain

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I feel like most people have written off this album. While there’s nothing groundbreaking here, there’s a familiarity in Mr. Oberst’s vocals and subject matter that, along with the sprawling, dusty guitars, makes flipping this record akin to sliding into your favorite boots. Whatever.

Favorite track: “Double Life”

28. Sia – 1000 Forms of Fear

Sia_-_1000_Forms_of_Fear_(Official_Album_Cover)

Best straight pop album of the year. WHATEVER T-SWIFT.

Favorite track: “Elastic Heart”

27. Glass Animals – Zaba

Zaba

It’s just like chic and funky and consistently groovy, front to back.

Favorite track: “Cocoa Hooves”

26. Interpol – El Pintor

interpol-el-pintor

Yes, while El Pintor is a return to form (finally) for Interpol, the album sees the band falling back on old tricks. Nothing is new or exciting about most of this material, and yet it’s the band’s strongest effort in a long, long time, with a few of the songs being able to sit on the same shelf as the best work they’ve ever done.

Favorite track: “My Blue Supreme”

25. How To Dress Well – Where Is This Heart?

What Is This Heart

Like, one minute it’s dance-y and fun (“Repeat Pleasure”) and then it’s like, really spooky and scary and sad (“Face Again”). I’m in.

Favorite track: “Repeat Pleasure”

24. Thom Yorke – Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes

Tomorrows Modern Boxes

A very welcome surprise from Mr. Yorke, who continues to be prolific behind the scenes while we all wait for Radiohead’s next masterpiece.

Favorite track: “Nose Grows Some”

23. Sisyphus – Sisyphus

Sisyphus

I’m biased because it’s love. Sufjan and I share a very special bond, so I couldn’t not include an album on this list that he’s (heavily) involved in. While in theory this album shouldn’t work, it works well. Really well. Sufjan’s orchestral flourishes along with Son Lux’s melodies prove to be the perfect backdrop for MC Serengeti’s rhymes.

Favorite track: “Rhythm of Devotion”

22. Azealia Banks – Broke With Expensive Taste

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Perpetually delayed, and now perpetually great. I’m nervous I’m summoning something dark from the underworld when I listen to tracks like “Heavy Metal And Reflective,” or summoning something really, really chic while listening to “Ice Princess.” Even though most of the material is years old at this point, Ms. Banks still sounds fresh to death. Gays are flying everywhere.

Favorite track: “Wallace”

21. – TV On The Radio – Seeds

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TV On The Radio are a happy band now and it sounds great on them.

Favorite track: “Right Now”

20. Flying Lotus – You’re Dead!

You're_Dead!

But like really? It’s like candy coming out of your speakers.

Favorite track: “Never Catch Me (feat. Kendrick Lamar)

19. The Antlers – Familiars

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I don’t think The Antlers will ever get to a place as good (or depressing) as Hospice, but with each release since that defining record, they continue to evolve and surprise, still able to deliver an emotional punch with those freakin’ horns in a way that few others can.

Favorite track: “Surrender”

18. Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 2

RunTheJewelsRTJ2

 

Like, K. Album of the Year on many other’s lists. Not as high up on mine, but still, earth shattering.

Favorite track: “Early (feat. Boots)”

17. FKA Twigs – LP1

LP1

Chiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiic.

Favorite track: “Pendulum”

16. Spoon – They Want My Soul

They Want My Soul

I met Britt Daniel this past Sunday. Oh, this album is good. Spoon by the numbers, but that’s like, way better than most bands’ by-the-numbers shit.

Favorite track: “Knock Knock Knock”

15. La Roux – Trouble in Paradise

La_Roux_-_Trouble_in_Paradise

Maybe it’s because I’m gay. Maybe it’s because the live show blew my mind (even though I was alone, which was chic but also not chic). I keep coming back to this album when I need to shake the stress away, one of the many magical powers of music. La Roux’s Trouble in Paradise does it better than many others – there’s no need to skip to the next track on this one.

Favorite track: “Cruel Sexuality”

14. Mac DeMarco – Salad Days

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Is Mac DeMarco good looking? Not good looking? What would happen if he fixed his teeth? Can he get naked more often in music videos?

Favorite track: “Let My Baby Stay”

13. James Vincent McMorrow – Post Tropical

Post_Tropical

Murked me all last winter, and I’m ready to let it murk me all over again during this snowy season. McMorrow turned up the bass for his second LP and it sounds really great.

Favorite track: “Red Dust”

12. Future Islands – Singles

Singles

I mean there’s really not much more I can say about Singles that hasn’t already been said. This was Sam’s year.

Favorite track: “Seasons (Waiting On You)”

11. Caribou – Our Love

Our Love

Liiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiike. Yes. Also, Owen Pallett contributed a lot to this one. More on him later…

Favorite track: “Back Home”

10. PHOX – PHOX

PHOX

Ok, honestly I really didn’t want to like this album as much as I did, and still do. First, it was pushed on me BY THE STARBUCKS APP. Red flag number one. And then just look at that album art. CUTE AS FUCK. Also, their name is a stylized spelling of fox, an animal that is plastered all over my favorite Pierrepont Hicks tie. There’s no way the music can be that good. Then I learn this Baraboo, Wisconsin-based band recorded this album at Bon Iver’s April Base. BAIIIIII. And then I gave in and laughed and cried and wow it’s just kind of perfect. Does this make me basic?

Favorite track: “Satyr and The Faun”

9. Sharon Van Etten – Are We There

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Dead. I’m dead by how perfect this album is. Really Sharon, stop it.

Favorite track: “Break Me”

8. St. Vincent – St. Vincent

St. Vincent

Slay Annie.

Favorite track: “Regret”

7. Lykke Li – I Never Learn

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Jesus, this album. I mean when the preview video was released, I was sobbing at my desk. TALK ABOUT DEVASDATING! Apparently she wrote this album after the most painful breakup of her life. “This album is about the shame and the guilt and the sadness and the regret you can experience after leaving someone,” she told Pitchfork. Like, sadness chic to the extreme. And that voice, that voice that can pierce anything. Really though, if you’re having a bad day or you just fought with your girlfriend/boyfriend/roommate or just want to feel feelings, this is about as cathartic (and brilliant) as you can get. I mean during the chorus of “Gunshot” it actually feels like the music is shooting you. How great is that?

Favorite track: “Gunshot”

6. Beck – Morning Phase

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The return of Beck was great for me, and great for 2014. Seeing Beck at Pitchfork Fest this year really cemented how great this album is; who knew “Blue Moon” was such a sing-along anthem? “I’m so tired of being alooooneeeee.” Sing it boy.

Favorite track: “Waking Light”

5. Lana Del Rey – Ultraviolence

Ultraviolence

I don’t think I anticipated an album more this year than Lana’s- the one on which she had to prove to everyone she wasn’t a flash in the pan, she wasn’t her SNL performance, which honestly wasn’t that bad. The girl that everyone loved to hate became the subject of countless think pieces both defending and defaming her (once again). But Lana doesn’t care about any of that, and Ultraviolence is amazing. The album sounds like old Hollywood, curated by Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys and brought home by Lana’s vocals, which are stronger than ever. She revels in being the other woman, looking pretty when she cries, smoking hydroponic weed in Brooklyn with her boyfriend. And she’s cooler than him. Duh.

Favorite track: “Sad Girl”

4. Tweedy – Sukierae

Sukierae

What could have been a toss-off is instead one of the most captivating releases Jeff Tweedy has put out in a while, with or without Wilco. It’s long, yes, but none of the tracks are throwaways. Instead, we get a look into how a singer/songwriter deals with family issues (his wife’s cancer), and learn that Jeff’s son, Spencer, is a skilled drummer, which isn’t that much of a surprise. Songs like “Fake Fur Coat” evoke solo Dylan material, while “Low Key,” “Pigeons,” and “Honey Combed” take their place along with the best that Wilco or Tweedy have ever done. A treat, for sure.

Favorite track: “Low Key”

3. Real Estate – Atlas

Atlas

Real Estate have established a pretty niche sound, and while that doesn’t change much with Atlas, the band has evolved that sound to drape around some forlorn subject matter. “I’m out again on my own, a reflection in the chrome,” sings Martin Coutney on the opening track, singling that not all is beachy keen in New Jersey. This sentiment continues throughout the album. Lyrics like “I cannot come back to this neighborhood without feeling my own age,” on “Past Lives” and “I’m just trying to make some sense of this before I lose another year,” on “The Bend” hit home for many who are watching their own lives evolve before their eyes, but also reinforce that change can be a beautiful thing.

Favorite track: “The Bend”

2. The War On Drugs – Lost in the Dream

Lost in the Dream

It’s perfect. Really. Like, almost too perfect. The best part is Adam Granduciel and company make it all sound (and look during live shows) so effortless, like this kind of material is easy to conjure. I’m guessing it isn’t, so bravo.

Favorite track: “Red Eyes”

1. Owen Pallett – In Conflict

In Conflict

“I’ll never have any children. I would bare them and confuse them, my children.”

Oh Owen, aka Final Fantasy, aka master of the violin and loop pedal, aka the strings genius behind The National, Arcade Fire, Beirut and the Oscar-nominated Her soundtrack. On In Conflict, Owen the collaborator collaborated with Brian Eno to release his most personal album yet. One minute, this thing sounds like you’re on the moon (“In Conflict”), the next, you’re almost uncomfortably close to a past sexual encounter that’s at once eerie and beautiful (“The Passions”). I knew In Conflict would be good, but I had no idea that this album would grow on me to become my favorite of the year. Finally eschewing the guise of a stage name and signing about fictional characters like he did on Heartland, Pallett opens up and sings about his life, which is beautiful, messy and yes, gay.

When he sings that line, “I’ll never have any children,” you can almost hear the sadness in his voice, but he’s also come fully to terms with that fact. On “The Secret Seven,” Pallett sings, in defiance to Dan Savage, “It won’t get better,” before offering up his own telephone number and an ear to those that are experiencing “the hunger” and the rising water that can be navigating the gay lifestyle. The arrangements are complex yet playful, with added electronics, on display during “The Sky Behind the Flag,” and others, fleshing the whole thing out. I’m just rambling at this point, but the point is that I couldn’t escape In Conflict even if I wanted to.

And I don’t hate that.

Favorite track: “Song For Five & Six”

 

 

 

 

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Owen Pallett w/ yMusic and Nat Baldwin @ The History Theatre 04.15.11

It happened in slow motion.  One moment, Owen Pallett’s violin was resting on the edge of his keyboard like it had throughout the evening as the artist was pinging the audience for encore suggestions.  The next, it sat crippled on the stage of St. Paul’s History Theatre, broken right at the neck.  As the audience let out a collective gasp, you could see the despair in Pallett’s eyes even as he assured us that “it will be fixed by tomorrow.”  Anyone who has ever played a string instrument knew that this was a lie, and the violin was dead.

Well, at least Pallett’s violin went out with a bang, joined by three stringed brethren played by yMusic.  Pallett is known for playing shows solo or with one other person on percussion, utilizing loop machines and building the layers of each song live.  And while songs like “E is for Estranged,” from the excellent Heartland, were played in this fashion, it was when yMusic joined in on the arrangements that Pallett’s works soared.

Pallett started the show by sitting at a piano, noting how unusual this was for him before opening with “Midnight Directives” in the style heard on his Export EP.  More songs from Heartland were introduced; “The Great Elsewhere” had Pallett working his pedals hard, and “Oh Heartland, Up Yours!” which yMusic had specifically asked Pallett to play with them, took on a decidedly more stately sound with the string trio’s backing and the chorus eliciting some giggles from the audience.

The best part of the evening came with the last song Pallett’s violin would ever play.  Admitting to the audience that the song was pretty technically difficult and that the artists on stage would just “see what happens,” Pallett and yMusic launched into “He Poos Clouds” from his 2006 album of the same name.  Goofy name aside, the song was pulled off without a flaw, the crescendo and the end leaving the theater abuzz.  It was a thrilling, high-energy way to exit.

But the crowd wanted more, so Pallett walked back on stage, telling us that yMusic didn’t have any more songs but that he would be happy to play a few solo.  It was at this moment, when people began shouting song titles, that the violin took a tumble for the worse.  As Pallett stood in a state of bewilderment that this actually happened, and as the audience’s hearts broke, Rob Moose of yMusic borrowed his violin to Pallett to perform a plucked version of “Adventure.exe.”  And with that, Pallett walked off stage to assess the damage.

Also worth noting was Nat Baldwin’s (currently the bassist for The Dirty Projectors) set before Pallett’s.  Singing, playing an upright bass and working with a string trio, Baldwin played his gorgeous tunes that were the perfect primer for Pallett’s set.  The amount of talent on stage Friday evening (Rob Moose of yMusic alone has played with everyone from Grizzly Bear to Sufjan Stevens to Jay-Z) made the fact that the theater was pretty empty pretty disappointing.  However, the passion, expertise and joy with which Baldwin, yMusic and Pallett performed on Friday made one violin’s demise well worth it.

Below – Music video for Pallett’s “The Great Elsewhere.”  Watch now!

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Owen Pallett @ The Varsity Theater 4.11.10

In February 2005, Pitchfork staff writer Nitsuh Abebe referred to Owen Pallett’s “setup,” then performing under the name Final Fantasy, as “a losing battle with Andrew Bird, who’s already taken the man/violin/tapeloop triad to incredible levels of elegance.”  Funny how things change – the change not really being a difference in Pallett’s “setup” by any means, or the sound of his music, but rather the attention paid to the performer, especially after releasing his latest LP, Heartland, to rave reviews all across the board, including from Pitchfork’s Abebe, the album earning the site’s prestigious “Best New Music” label.

I’m not trying to downplay anyone’s love affair with Mr. Bird (my own included), but the moment Pallett stepped on stage at The Varsity Theater, removed his shoes, and started bowing otherworldly chords from his violin, looping the sounds and adding layers of his gorgeous voice on top of everything else, all memories of Bird melted away and I was fully transported to Pallett-land.

And what a lovely land to be in for an hour and a half, even when after his opening song, Pallett apologized for the quality of his voice due to impending sickness (“I prefer to medicate by enjoying a beer and a cigarette”).  This didn’t seem to matter much, as Pallett powered through his set – one that I thought would be heavy on tracks from Heartland that was surprisingly full of the gems from previous efforts Has a Good Home and He Poos Clouds.

After performing at first completely solo, using his violin and keys in front of him to create myriad sounds, including surprisingly deep bass generated from the plucking of his strings, Pallett was joined on stage by Thomas Gill, who contributed to songs with subtle bass, guitar and percussion, most noticeable during songs such as the anthem “Lewis Takes Action.”  Other highlights included the bittersweet and moving “That’s When the Audience Died,” and a contemplative version of “The CN Tower Belongs To the Dead,” both from 2005’s Has a Good Home.    While performing “Many Lives -> 49 MP,” Pallett shouted into the f-holes of his violin to complete the shouting effect heard on the studio version found on He Poos Clouds.

For the encore, Pallett asked the audience which songs they would like to hear.  After an audience member shouted out “Ultimatum,” Pallett laughed and then had some banter with Gill, assuring him that he knew the chords and would try to make it work.  The version of “Ultimatum” that was born live in front of the audience was fantastic, made even better by the raw, on a whim nature of the peformance, complete with short pauses and giddy expressions displayed by both Pallett and Gill as they worked through the song’s complex arrangement.

And at that, Pallett grabbed his shoes, thanked us all graciously for coming, and left the stage.  Dropped jaws and joyful expressions smacked across the audience’s faces signaled a great show, no doubt.

Lewis Takes Action (Live at The Varsity Theater)

Note the crazy bass.

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Album Review: Owen Pallett – Heartland

9 out of 10

Take the dude who produced Panda Bear’s Person Pitch (Rusty Santos), the Czech National Orchestra and Owen Pallett, who has composed string arrangements for Arcade Fire, Grizzly Bear and Beirut and you get Heartland, the brilliant third LP from Owen Pallett and the first released under his actual name.

Formally performing and releasing music under the moniker Final Fantasy, Pallett deserves every right to feel comfortable stamping his name all over an album like Heartland.  His background as a composer is evident in the lush orchestrations that combine the use of classical instruments mixed with electronic sounds akin to something Beach House would use as a backbeat.

“The songs themselves form a narrative concerning a farmer named Lewis and the fictional world of Spectrum,” Pallett said in a press release concerning his masterpiece.  “The songs are one-sided dialogues with Lewis, a young, ultra-violent farmer, speaking to his creator.”  This is evident in songs like “Lewis Takes Action” where the listener is introduced to the farmer with a very Sufjan Stevens-like parade anthem with plucked strings, triumphant horns, crashing symbols and tambourine.  Another highlight, “Lewis Takes Off His Shirt” gallops forward as the character Lewis sings “As soon as I got on the horse, I forgot about the math / Forgot about the odds against an adolescent standing up to all of Owen’s wrath.”  Yes, Pallett is referencing himself as Lewis’ God.  He did after all create this musical world Lewis thrives in.

And what a creator Pallett is.  It seems that lately a band will try to infuse some strings here, an oboe or horn there to make their music more serious, as if inserting classical instrumentation makes the work “legit” because it’s like, real Mozart stuff dude.  Even the classically trained Ben Folds used this to somewhat more of a successful result when playing with the full Minnesota Orchestra and other Orchestras around the country this past year.  Songs like “Smoke (strings)” did sound quite lovely with the new arrangement and extra oomph provided by the Orchestra, but that’s mostly what other artists use classical instruments for in their songs, just extra sound that, if left off of the record, wouldn’t really change the meaning or overall sound.

This is not the case with Pallett and Heartland.  The narrative of the album, no matter how oddball, obscure and hidden it can be, revolves around the compositions.  Every single note that Pallett wrote for the instruments in the Orchestra has its place.  Never does the music feel pretentious.  Admittedly this is some very dense material, but the work is only overwhelming in its beauty and the sheer success that Pallett has accomplished with this album in a mere 45 minutes.  Words really can’t do this work of art justice, so, just listen, and repeat, and repeat, and repeat…

Key Tracks:

This album should really be devoured as a whole but…

Lewis Takes Action

Oh Heartland, Up Yours!

Lewis Takes Off His Shirt

E Is for Estranged


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Final Fantasy and the Mountain Goats @ The Cedar 11.07.09

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John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats.  Photo by Nicky Stein-Grohs

You can tell a lot about a band by the type of crowd they draw.  This Saturday at The Cedar, the people gathered for the sold out Mountain Goats show looked like the same crowd that gathered for Grizzly Bear.  Or Fleet Foxes.  But there was something a little different about this particular hipster crowd.  As opening act Owen Pallett (performing as Final Fantasty) ended his fantastic set (think Andrew Bird but no whistling while adding a lot more bass), the space in front of the stage started to fill with some interesting characters.  Girls in sequined tops carrying massive purses brushed up against the token “chill” girl, telling her friend about an upcoming event which she described as “like a two day hippie vegan fest.”  Ok…

Then, as the Mountain Goats took the stage, I ended up behind what had to be the drunkest guy at the show.  Sporting a military haircut and double fisting it the entire show, Mr. Drunk, as I will call him, was totally “that guy,” trying to talk to other fans around him about how awesome it was being at this show, regularly raising both beer-filled hands in the air, yelling at the top of his lungs “whooooooooooo!” about every two seconds.  The quiet space between songs was filled with this man’s requests for particular numbers.  None of these requests were answered.

I’m all about having a good time at a show.  I just think it’s ironic that a band like the Mountain Goats, who’s lyrics, song titles and all-around sound demands some close listening (especially at the rate that lead singer John Darnielle spits out the words) would draw this rowdy of a crowd, people still yelling and shouting during songs “about terminal illness and other things that won’t go away,” as Darnielle stated in between songs.

DSC_0578Owen Pallett, aka Final Fantasy.  Photo by Nicky Stein-Grohs

Maybe Mr. Drunk soured my experience of the show.  The majority of the crowd was respectful, hanging on to every word and note that the North Carolina-based band threw at the audience.  I tried to get into it.  I tried to understand what this band’s appeal is all about.  They have been around for 10 years, after all.  They have an impressive catalog of music, most of which Pitchfork has given positive reviews of.  But just because a band has been around the block a couple of times doesn’t mean that they are the best at delivering the sort of message they are trying to deliver.  Yes, the world is filled with messed up people who are depressed, using drugs and are angry at God.  Listen to any Elliott Smith lately?  Yes, the lyrics are highly-literate to the point where it almost sounds like the writer doesn’t care about how the lyrics will match up to the song structure and is instead just rambling.  Have you heard of The Hold Steady?   The highly-literate lyrics about depressed and angry people are delivered by a frontman with a voice and tone that some might find annoying, but the vocals float above some actually pretty nice sounding instrumentation.  Let me introduce you to Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Interpol, or The Decemberists.  Hell, even Death Cab for Cutie provides more of a cathartic experience while sounding a lot better (for the record, I think Ben Gibbard’s voice is quite pleasant).

So clearly, I’m not diggin on the Mountain Goats.  And I never really have.  I gave it a shot Saturday night.  The bands energy throughout the evening was impressive.  Darnielle was clearly into it.  He spoke at length (in a rambling mess that people didn’t seem to know if they should laugh or not) between songs.   But the entire time my head just kept going to other artists (some of whom are mentioned in this review) that do basically the same thing as the Goats, but better.  A lot better.  Maybe that’s why, for the second encore, the Mountain Goats sang The Hold Steady’s “Positive Jam”, even though Darnielle clearly didn’t know the lyrics.  Now that’s ironic.

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