At the tail end of last year, Canadian musician Owen Pallett issued a brief statement that he would be “voluntarily retiring” his stage name. For the previous five years, the songwriter and violin virtuoso had been producing ornate orchestral pop under the moniker Final Fantasy, a reference to the Japanese role-playing game series that had occupied a sizable chunk of his adolescence. Not coincidentally, the announcement came as he was on the verge of getting his first proper album release here in Japan.
“Heartland,” Pallett’s third record to date but the first under his own name, is the most fully realized offering yet from a songwriter whose compositional verve is matched only by the barminess of his concepts. 2006′s “He Poos Clouds,” which won the inaugural Polaris Music Prize in Canada, was loosely based around the schools of magic in “Dungeons & Dragons.” Its 2010 followup is set on an imaginary planet called Spectrum, where a young farmer named Lewis rebels against his creator-god, who just happens to be called Owen.
These fantasies are housed within lavish orchestrations, played by Pallett himself alongside the Czech Philharmonic and Toronto-based St. Kitts’ Winds. Pallet holds a degree in composition from the University of Toronto, and has penned string arrangements for artists as diverse as Arcade Fire — with whom he also serves as a touring member — and the Pet Shop Boys. Despite his musical prowess, he prefers to write the arch, literate lyrics to his songs first, even releasing one piece as an instrumental when he couldn’t get the words to fit.
Although his recordings have grown ever more epic in scale, Pallett’s gigs remain more minimal affairs. Don’t expect an orchestra on stage when he makes his debut appearances in Japan this month. Recent shows have seen him joined only by multi-instrumentalist Thomas Gill, layering symphonies with the aid of loop pedals and Max/MSP software.
Owen Pallett plays Astro Hall in Harajuku, Tokyo, on Dec. 18 (6 p.m.); and Unagidani Sunsui in Osaka on Dec. 20 (6:30 p.m.). For more information, visit www.owenpalletteternal.com.