NO. I will not fall prey to best-of-year-list grovelling. You know, the kind of self serving dribble that, in a musical context, articulates nothing about the importance and patience for dialectic conversation, and has everything to do with bragging about how deft everyone else is to your sense of authority. INSTEAD. Owen Pallet. Heartland.
Since it's release in January, few albums come off as dead-on-target. It was conceived as a concept album, following the life of a fictional character named Lewis, which is cool and all that, but I find this precursor a bit misleading. What I mean by this is that great concept albums do not require a consummate back-story. Even if you never read the liner-notes, you could still understand where Heartland is coming from, because you soon realize it's welling over with vision and intention.
The arrangements here are absolutely stunning. Pallet is a classically trained musician and composer so it's not surprising to find his work constructed with this kind of authority and grace. It also can't hurt to have the full fledged power of The Czech Symphony Strings and The St. Kitts' Winds at his disposal. Songs like "The Great Elsewhere" awaken with murmuring keys and synths, then takes flight half way through with soaring drums and strings. He follows after it with the sly ballad, "Oh Heartland, Up Yours!," an example of how he's mastered the kind of push and pull that keeps songs from becoming benign duplicates. The horns and hook on single "Lewis Takes His Shirt Off" is perhaps the albums most immediate moment, while the closer "What Will Happen Next?" features a wounded piano dancing under Pallet's layered vocals, and keeps the drama breathing until the last second.
While there has been plenty of great music this year, Heartland is one of the few complete masterpieces. It has held true all year long, and I find myself anticipating every turn and leap with nothing less than wonder. Last year I didn't make a best of 09', and I'm brewing as to whether I should make one this year, or perhaps a track listing instead? Be sure either way to see Owen Pallet's name among them.