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Toronto's Final Fantasy makes conceptual music sound good

The name "Final Fantasy" for some conjures up the role-playing video game series, and for others, some sort of apocalyptic vision. But in this case, we're talking about the solo project of Owen Pallett, otherwise known as the violinist for Montreal's Arcade Fire. The project is named after the video game series, but, clarified Pallett, "I don't think the video game influences the music very much, though I do think it's an appropriate title for music which is very much about melodrama in the fantasy world."

Melodrama and fantasy abound on He Poos Clouds, Final Fantasy's second release. String arrangements loop over each other; the percussion provides dramatic flourishes; and Pallett's lyrics include words like "shieldth" and "duketh." Songs go through dramatic arcs, sometimes more than once, and often include plunges into hysteria followed by gleeful dances.

Pallett began the project after seeing one of his friends using loop pedals with a guitar, and decided to try using loop pedals with a violin.

"With Final Fantasy, I wanted the songs to be kind of a little more affectionate, a little more polite," Pallett said. "And I suppose the kind of music that I was making prior to this was a little screamy and melodramatic, and so Final Fantasy was meant to be more dear, have a little more tongue-in-cheek sort of stuff about it. I mean, it's not that it's self-expression or anything like that; it's more just that it's ideas about how human emotions exist and stuff like that. And also some more hilarious conceptual ideas."

For example, on Final Fantasy's Web site (finalfantasyeternal.com), He Poos Clouds is said to contain "an athiest explanation of magical phenomena, Yukio Mishima, Julia Kristeva, Galina Ustvolskaya and ragtime, love of video game characters, the dying, Pern and modern dating, the link between condominium retail and impotence, Bartok's 2nd string quartet, Irish metafictional characters and baking." It's also, said Pallett, about the eight schools of magic in Dungeons and Dragons.

Just the name of the album shows its sense of humor in its realm of fantasy: Said Pallett, "It's meant to be kind of a nice way, a cute way of saying that I think he's really good." As in, he's so nice, he doesn't poo actual poo, but clouds come out instead.

The song by the same name of "He Poos Clouds" also includes lyrics like "Gotta save Michael from the White Witch!" There's also "This Lamb Sells Condos," which has the line "Look! Over the treetops! Newly conjured erections are making him a killing," double-entendre probably intended. "I'm Afraid of Japan" ponders, "If I do it with an ice pick, will I come back as a jock?"

Other songs are not so much humorous as whimsical, like "If I Were a Carp," with its sorrowful cello undertones and whispered lyrics. Some have said that He Poos Clouds sounds a bit like a strange musical, with a cast of characters including a "daughter who eats everything" ("Song, Song, Song") and confused and disillusioned people who have just been confronted with some sort of abject version of themselves, like the entirety of a short song whose title is a picture of an arrow: "A taut wire / her father's evil empire / Jenna dreams of being physically able / to behead herself at the dining room table."

Upon first listen, it's hard to tell that this music--full of gorgeous orchestrations and textures--is this conceptually wrought. But, says Pallett, "There's a lot of that stuff in Toronto. People outside of Toronto would think that it's pretentious or silly, but it's like a day in the life of what goes on here. People want the music to be more than just a rock band. They want more conceptual elements to it. More interesting performance practice."

The loop pedal is, Pallett explained, "like a new instrument as opposed to a performance practice," but for his live performances, he uses that instrument to create his interesting performance practice. "It's just a loop pedal show, but I kind of make it a little deconstructivist, I try to make it so that the audience can see the way the songs are built."

And that's the key difference between Pallett's music and his work with Arcade Fire (he co-wrote most of the string arrangements): the narrative, conceptual feel of the music, which, combined with the lyrics, makes He Poos Clouds sound a bit like an anthology of modern fairy tales.

Which is something that Pallett is continuing to work on: His next album will be "an epic fantasy novel," he explained. "I'm going to try and actually tell a story through pop songs, sort of in the tradition of Schubert."

More by Annie Holub

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