Final Fantasy is one of those bands that require your heart and brain to be in it, not just your ears.
Owen Pallet's one-man band is an exquisite example of intelligent music -- classical violins playing experimental indiepop. And his debut album "Has A Good Home" is like a fragile glass ornament spun out of music, with wildly varying styles and sensitive, bittersweet lyrics.
It opens with a smooth string introduction, joined in by Pallett's melancholy vocals. He sings of a dying rich man, who vows that "None of you will ever see a penny/Of my ill-begotten wealth." But it isn't malicious -- he wishes "a lifetime of labour" on his children, because "hard days make peaceful nights."
You'd think all the songs would be like that. But it's wrong. With the very next song (a tribute to Arcade Fire's Win and Regina), he weaves electronic edges to his quirky violin plucking.
And in the songs that follow, Pallett tries out a variety of styles. Each one has the violin winding through each one like a silken cord, no matter how odd the style is -- string folk, tight indiepop, classical glitchpop, angelic ballads, dancey pop, medieval-sounding songs, and ominous little ditties that shiver through to the end.
But the album reaches its peak with "Chronicles of Sarnia," a shimmering ballad with heartbreaking lyrics: "I had to hide myself in a book/To keep your love away.... Midwinter Banquet, he shook his head/"Sadly, no,/I can reverse the river's flow,/but I can never send you home."
A lot of indie bands include strings in their music, usually woven in with other instruments, but very few have the guts to feature an indiepop song that is backed almost entirely by violin. So "Has a Good Home" ends up sounding wholly unique, polished and accomplished.
And the classically-trained Pallett knows how to use his violin: it shivers, shimmers, wobbles, twangs, swoops and swells, and sweeps out the music into bittersweet grandeur. In fact, his quiet instrumentation would be glorious even if it weren't backed by little horns and weavings of synth. Those are just the icing on the proverbial cake.
The finishing touch is Pallett himself -- his smooth, mournful voice croons through the songs almost conversationally. And his songs have the inscrutable quality of poetry -- he tackles adventure-lust, Canada, Yukio Mishima, and deep heartbreak: "Took you two years to win my heart/then two words to break it/every song from a heart this mangled/will be draped in strings, strings, strings."
"Has A Good Home" is an exquisite debut album, and only served as the warm-up to Final Fantasy's even better second album. Deserves to be a classic.