I'll be fairly honest right off the bat; with me it's either Tecmo Bowl or get the hell out of here. I'm not sure the child in my mind has quite fully recovered from the rush of invincibility and fearlessness that a spry young Bo Jackson proffered as he galloped down the sideline at four times the speed of anyone else, dancing with the Denver Bronco secondary for a brief second, and throwing them lurchy and awkward to the sideline as he made his way to the end zone for the final time in the afternoon, as my Raiders prevailed 124 - 3. This is unfair to Final Fantasy (see what I‘m doing here?), who, while certainly not Bo Jackson, is entitled to my better self with his charming and meticulously well-orchestrated sophomore effort, and not the shell of a boy that died a little as he thrashed his aged console once and for all with a vice grip when the little red light just wouldn't go on.
For Owen Pallette, regular Arcade Fire violinist and Mr. Final Fantasy, it is often the darker sides of any psyche that populate the world of intentions, and his second full length, He Poos Clouds, is full of jaunty fables that blur the line between the monotony of modern living and the shadowy underbelly of the cords and discords that entrap our relations with one another. Each song, I might add, is advertised by Pallette to be based (loosely, I would suppose) on the eight schools of magic from Dungeons & Dragons, while the other two are about trains (I made that last part up). Taking a markedly different approach on this one than his first outing, Has A Good Home, he has taken himself to task, arranging his new tales for chamber orchestra, replacing violin and drum loops that articulated his mostly DIY debut. The opener "Arctic Circle" sets this revamped outlook into full motion with a playful stop/start interweaving of viola and cello, as we follow a cradle-robbing gentleman and a lovelorn maven with an affinity for firearms through a normal suburban day in the age of modern romance and on home again where secrets held within throughout the day can once again take roost in a grand flourish, "Shieldth up! Shieldth up! Bar the door, and keep your duketh up!" Pallette's vocal delivery can at times quite closely resemble Xiu Xiu's Jamie Stewart, and likewise, the two tend to cover similar terrain. Indeed, it is in keeping with this theme of the maudlin mindset that the jangly harpsichord line propels onward the impotent pyromaniacal real estate agent of doom, conjuring up erections (of the housing variety) and spelling disaster for the quiet village in one of the album's most rousing tracks, "This Lamb Sells Condos," before again returning home to his unfulfilled wife's laments, given voice by the female choir.
For a work purported to banish all thoughts of suicide from the listener's mind forever, He Poos Clouds is certainly chock full of depressing characters and more than a few allusions to self termination, death, and afterlife. "I'm Afraid Of Japan" is a weary lamentation on proposed reincarnation after ritual disemboweling, and the throwback accordion chug of "Do You Love?" does little to soften the final exclamations by which "The Knife! the Knife! this knife! this knife!/ Every inch, every inch of me will come to know its magic!" But as all good existential crises know, the path to salvation lies not solely in death but in acceptance of the trudging ever onward, and so too the funereal lilt and stroll of the closing "The Pooka Song" casts us off with the gift (or burden) of doubt in transcendence and whatever it may require of us, and instead lets us retire in the peace of simply the world that is, good or bad that it may often be.
"Do we believe in devils? No.
Winged men? The healing pow'r of love? No.
Enchantment? Social justice? No.
Dead child actors in a white, white world above? No.
Then why are all your songs about the things that don't exist?"
I guess because it's easier to admit to one's self than the things that do. Isn't that right, Bo Jackson?
1. Arctic Circle
2. He Poos Clouds
3. This Lamb Sells Condos
4. If I Were A Carp
6. I'm Afraid Of Japan
7. Song Song Song
8. Many Lives -> 49MP
9. Do You Love?
10. The Pooka Song