Owen Pallett’s first album in six years opens with a series of deep, desolate piano chords in slow succession—a foghorn-like effect that signals arrival ashore at some mysterious new destination. But in this case, it’s a new destination in a familiar setting: Island finds the Montreal-based avant indie pop composer returning to Spectrum, the fictional 14th-century universe in which they set their 2010 concept album Heartland. That record centered around the character of Lewis, a farmer in conflict with his god—who just happened to be named Owen Pallett and who met a violent end by Lewis’ hand at the record’s conclusion…or did they? Island doesn’t just survey the aftermath of that fateful duel; its narrative actually begins at the same moment the previous one ends. However, as was the case with Heartland, all of this fantastical world-building is really just an elaborate way for Pallett to analyze their own real-life experiences. “Lewis is meant to both represent people that I see outside of myself, as well as a part of myself that I don't always see,” Pallett tells Apple Music. “With Island, however, Lewis is more representative of an instinctive, subconscious side of myself that I only really become acquainted with when I'm blind drunk.” True to that duality, Island represents a hybrid of two dramatically different approaches. Though known primarily as a violinist, Pallett wrote much of the record on acoustic guitar in anticipation of translating it into an orchestral work. But the end result hovers somewhere in between those two poles: Conceived as a single continuous piece, Island gradually mutates from peaceful, pastoral folk to percussive, symphonic clamor to reflect the increasingly fraught circumstances of Lewis’ new journey, and his inability to escape the specter of his maker. Or as Pallett puts it, “We have this record that begins like it could just be a sequel to [Nick Drake’s] Pink Moon, and instead it kind of descends into something much more in line with Scott Walker's The Drift.” Here’s Pallett’s song-by-song guide to help you navigate his brave new world. - - -> (i)/Transformer “Initially, my concept for Island was that it was going to be 80 minutes of orchestral music. Those opening chords that you hear on the piano were literally recorded on my iPhone. I had originally wanted the album to begin with gongs and faraway horn fanfares that were playing essentially what the piano is playing. But when I was circulating the album, people were really gravitating much more towards the original demo version of the record. So what I ended up doing is hybridizing the two: The record begins very much like contemplative solo exploration, and then the orchestra becomes more and more intrusive as the record goes on. But it starts in more of a demo mode. The piano chords are meant to have a funereal quality. Heartland ended somewhat abruptly with Owen's death, so this is almost like a funeral moment. And 'Transformer' is about starting with a clean slate. I've left it ambiguous as to whether the song is Owen viewing Lewis floating away or whether it's sung from Lewis' perspective as he floats away. But it's about Lewis departing from this bloody scene of violence at the end of Heartland and arriving in a new place so he can start afresh…” Paragon of Order “...and Lewis' version starting afresh is actually going to be just getting drunk and screwing around and getting depressed and hanging out by the ocean.” - - -> (ii)/The Sound of Engines “‘The Sound of Engines' is meant to be reflective of Lewis feeling this perhaps misplaced sense of power—he feels like he's going to live longer than any of the children of his enemies, and that his 'body is stronger than collapsing buildings.' That's a throwaway nod to Einstürzende Neubauten, by the way. So Lewis is getting drunk, getting in fights, and ending up in an ambulance and in the hospital. The origin of that song really came from a moment in 2009, before I had moved to Montreal. Me and a few friends had a yearly ritual of going to Montreal in the dead of winter and celebrating New Year's there. And I just remember a moment when we had all done some MDMA—me for the first time, actually—and I remember it being like minus-25 outside and feeling like the cold was energizing as opposed to oppressive. My coat was open, and I just felt like a million bucks and had that kind of hubristic feeling of 'I'm on top of the world.'” Perseverance of the Saints “This song is reflective of an experience that I have a great deal, probably two to three times a week, which is this feeling of waking up a little too early and being in this state of confusion. And my experience being in this situation is that, oftentimes, this is the time that the presence of a lover or a partner is most advantageous. The times I need the most comfort is after an anxious night of sleep.” Polar Vortex “Historically in literature, the concepts of insanity and madness are given certain associations—like the moon, for example, and the whole concept of lunatic and lunacy. But it's also seen as a very feminine kind of thing that's typically associated with hysterical women. This song is positing that the madness is actually in patriarchal structures—that the sources of stability are, in fact, actually the sources of madness. I'm just throwing this theory out there—this is not a thesis that I live by. I'm skeptical of all aspects of gender, not just masculinity! But this song is meant to be an investigation and an inversion of that concept.” - - -> (iii)/A Bloody Morning “This was by far the last song to be completed—I had finished every other song a good nine months before I finished this one, just from a lyrical perspective. I had been sitting on this track, I had orchestrated it, and I knew what the song was supposed to be about, but it was really hard for me to find a melody that fit. So it took a long time and a lot of experimentation and a lot of thrown-out verses. Greg Fox from Liturgy is on the drums, and there's just something magical about the way he plays straight eighth notes—I've never heard something so in-time.” Fire - Mare “The whole concept of the fire mare came from the movie Krull. I actually never saw Krull as a kid, but we had the board game, and fire mares were a part of that board game. The song is portraying a situation where Lewis, having caused the nautical disaster that occurs in 'A Bloody Morning,' is now in jail and trying to contemplate having so quickly gone from being the hero of Heartland to being now somebody who is imprisoned and trying to adjust to that. And the interesting thing about this song is the way the voices diverge shortly after Lewis calls out Owen's name, as if there's two people singing the album instead of just the one. I'm a big fan of having songs where suddenly there's just two vocals going on that are unrelated to each other. 'Father Lucifer' from Tori Amos’ Boys for Pele was a real formative influence in this regard.” Lewis Gets Fucked Into Space “Some of these songs were written before I knew this was going to be a Lewis narrative and then got revised, and this was one of them. I had this idea of wanting to commemorate a particularly memorable sexual experience, and I think the title came after the song was written—I was like, 'Ha ha, "Lewis Gets Fucked Into Space," what a fun title.’ But then it became the crux of the narrative of this entire album. Lewis is first hated by the community, and then imprisoned by the community, and now he’s removed from his jail cell and thrown up into space—like, the most ultimate exile you can ever imagine.” - - -> (iv)/In Darkness “Here, Lewis is trying to make sense of the events of this record and where it's left him, and trying to parse out some lessons from all this. And the two lessons are: Self-destruction is not an adequate way of finding forgiveness from your peers, and secondly, you don't always need to be acting in ways that are just strictly meant to be achieving your base desires. It's kind of a dreary song—it works really nicely when you're laying in bed with headphones on contemplating the meaninglessness of your existence.”

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