Final Fantasy

Phil Ford

I wrote a post about what books people got for the holidays, and got some interesting responses. But what about music?

Curiously, my wife and I don’t usually get one another a lot of music. For some reason, books are easier. But I did get her one disc, He Poos Clouds, by a Toronto violinist and composer named Owen Pallett, a.k.a. Final Fantasy. Helen and I first heard it when driving between Toronto and my Mom’s house out in the county on New Year’s Eve. We were listening to CBC 3 (CBC’s indie rock station — my god, there’s something so Canadian about founding a bureaucratic state institution to handle indie rock*) and they had a year-in-review of the Canadian rock scene, which ended up being great, because for whatever reason Canada is just bristling with rock talent right now. And my favorite track was this thing called “This Lamb Sells Condos” by Final Fantasy (from the aforementioned He Poos Clouds) which has this off-kilter Mikrokosmos-type piano lick that got stuck in my mind. So, anyway, got the album for Helen, and it’s just awesome. Pallett has said that he thinks most string arrangements in post-rock albums kind of suck, so I suppose that his own string arrangements for He Poos Clouds (the songs are mostly strings) are meant to show how it should be done. Well, they do show how it should be done. I like post-rock albums with strings, and I’m probably not as discriminating about the arrangements as Pallett is, but I’ve never heard strings on a pop/rock record that sound like this.

Like Andrew Bird, Pallett performs live with an array of pedals and samplers that let him make self-accompanied songs out of layers of loops.  It’s kind of commonplace now, actually (Robert Fripp was doing stuff like it in the 1970s), but like anything else, it’s not the gimmick that matters, it’s the execution. This clip put a smile on my face.

*Is this awesome, or is it everything you’ve fought against for all these years? Discuss.

About Phil Ford

Chairman of the Committee for the Memorial to the Victims of Modernism
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13 Responses to Final Fantasy

  1. Mark says:

    I vote awesome, but I haven’t fought against anything all these years. I saw bass clarinetist Michael Lowenstern do something similar, also good. The best rock song with strings is Serge Gainsbourg’s “Ballade de Melody Nelson.” The contrast between the strings and the Rickenbacher bass is great.

  2. Mark says:

    Pallet’s riff sounds like the Tom Tom Club’s “Genius of Love.” 🙂

  3. joshua says:

    I heard this played on UT’s student run radio station, KVRX 91.7 FM, a couple of weeks ago. It was delightful to hear what it turned into.

  4. I also vote awesome for the following reasons.
    1) It’s Canadian.
    2) Oh…sorry…did you really need any others?

  5. Ryan Dohoney says:

    I’ve been a big fan of Final Fantasy for about a year now. He’s part of a cadre of queer-indie folks (including Grizzly Bear, Deerhunter, and to a lesser degree Patrick Wolf) that are all doing fantastic and beautiful music. Apparently Mr. Wolf dismissed Mr. Pallett as sounding exactly like Laurie Anderson. If you’re going to go for a Final Fantasy cover I recommend his version of Joanna Newsom’s “Peach, Plum, Pear” also available via the tube.

  6. Squashed says:

    There are several new interface to create that sort of composition. Tenori-On is fun. (but expensive). There is another DIY button interface floating online somewhere one can purchase.
    Jim O’rourke trying on the Tenori on
    http://www.filefactory.com/file/4745ee/
    Four Tet

  7. ben wolfson says:

    But Final Fantasy isn’t post-rock!
    The best rock song with strings is Univers Zero’s “Complainte” from 1313, hands down.

  8. Phil Ford says:

    OK, I’ll bite — why not?

  9. ben wolfson says:

    Well, you know, because it’s obviously indie pop. Honestly I don’t see what would seduce one into calling FF post-rock in the first place; take a list of some canonically post-rock albums (such as follows this sentence) and “He Poos Clouds” would definitely be the odd one out.
    Say: Godspeed You Black Emperor! – Slow Riot for New Zero Kanada; Tortoise – Millions Now Living Will Never Die; Bark Psychosis – Hex; Explosions in the Sky – The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place; Do Make Say Think – Winter Hymn Country Hymn Secret Hymn; Talk Talk – Laughing Stock; Silver Mt. Zion – “This Is Our Punk-Rock,” Thee Rusted Satellites Gather + Sing; Rachel’s – Selenography; and some Mogwai album or other.
    Actually the wikipedia article seems informative! (On post-rock, that is.) The point about the vocals is well made, also texture (though that doesn’t really apply across the board). “He Poos Clouds” is no more post-rock than Sufjan Stevens’ “Seven Swans”.

  10. Phil Ford says:

    Are we talking about genre designations (which would have more to do with musico-stylistic features) or affiliations (a.k.a. “scenes”)? If it’s the former, I’d want to know what aspects of Pallett’s style are indie as opposed to postrock, and if it’s the latter, then why is it that Pallett in his interviews constantly positions himself against musicians generally identified as post-rock?
    These sorts of things are always kind of slippery. You can still get an argument going on whether “Birth of the Cool,” is, in fact, “cool jazz.”

  11. ben wolfson says:

    Well, the only interview with him I’ve read is the one linked in the post, which I just read now, and I’m really not seeing a route from his claim that GYBE! weren’t good but it was in such contexts that one tended to hear strings in rock around then to his own music being post-rock. As for the former I’m really tempted to just say “all of them”, even though (obviously) that would be to punt. I’m curious as to who else you consider to be post-rock that this would even be a live question.

  12. squashed says:

    “I like post-rock albums with strings, and I’m probably not as discriminating about the arrangements as Pallett is, but I’ve never heard strings on a pop/rock record that sound like this.”
    I am not sure if final fantasy is ever called post-rock (as in ‘Slint-Goodspeed-tortoise- etc…) At least their name won’t ever come out when people talk about post-rock around the blog. Strickly “genre labeling” talk.
    Anyway ‘Final fantasy’ has its comparative group. It was hip around the blog few months back. ‘Beirut’, ‘The Besnard Lakes’ and ‘Belle Orchestre’ are pretty close. Tho not using violin as much. People generally lump them together.
    For strings these groups are classically trained : ‘Clogs’ , ‘Rachel’s’, ‘CocoRosie’. Their music is in that strange zone of not exactly folks, rock, or experimentals.
    Same question: Is Xiu-Xiu a rock band? Is Matmos an electronica group?
    Xiu-Xiu

    Clogs

    Matmos

    cocorosie

  13. Ben F. says:

    It’s really hard for me to check out a guy creating loops on a violin while singing and *not* compare him to Andrew Bird…so that’s what I did. I vote “cool,” but fairly amateurish when stacked against Bird–vocals aren’t that strong, violin technique not as refined. When I listen to Bird play something solo (witness this sublime rendition of Why: http://youtube.com/watch?v=o6tfkD0odHo), it all sounds complete. We need nothing else. Simply put, he kicks ass. With Pallet, I feel like I’m missing some instruments, like I wouldn’t mind some bass and drums in the mix.
    Of course, comparing Bird’s performance of an original song to Pallet’s Mariah Cary cover probably isn’t fair, but, you know, any excuse to post a link to Why – it’s freaking fantastic.
    Now, in light of the above, I checked out some of his recorded stuff on itunes, and I like it a lot-definitely more engrossing as a composer than solo performer.
    However, can we really call this music rock, in any subgenre? I realize that Pallet has some indie cred from arcade fire and the Canadian rock scene, but the music itself – rock?

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