He Poos Clouds
ver wished for your own white dragon? Could you actually name the eight schools of magic that the songs on this album are supposedly each inspired by? Did you cry when Aeris died?
If the answers are yes to these questions, then you’ll probably be in heaven with He Poos Clouds. If you’re reaching for the back button in puzzlement or disgust (well done on making it past the title, by the way) then don’t go yet—there could be something for you here too, because while Owen Pallett’s second album is heavily indebted to nerdish fantasy of all kinds and has a wealth of references for those similarly inclined to spot, it largely steers well clear of pretentiousness while evoking an overarching strange and escapist world all of its own.
Pallett showed a talent for cleverly arranged chamber-pop with last year’s Has a Good Home but it was a brittle, overlong album which suffered from inconsistency, a rushed and thin feeling befitting its speedy recording, and a definite air of the in-joke over the whole album—its best song was called “This Is the Dream of Win and Regine,” for a start. There is no song as immediate as that on He Poos Clouds, but it is richer and more complete in every way. The only thing that’s slightly flippant about the whole thing, in fact, is the unfortunately juvenile title. This is not to say that there isn’t still humour present—this is a man who recently posted on his site possible new names in case of lawsuit including Final Fantasy 1979 and Test Icles—but it is mainly of the surreal kind and takes second place to a dream-like atmosphere and intensity.
The improvement in songwriting is evident right from the start: suitably chilling opener “Arctic Circle” tells in sharp, colourful strokes the tale of two lonely and introverted people who are unwilling or unable to open up to anyone, with their meeting serving not to change this for the better, but instead to land them in bed and presumably an unhappy relationship with each other. It’s followed by the title track which tackles a similar theme of loneliness but sees Pallett turn on himself, declaring “every boy that I’ve ever loved has been digital” before a weirdly affecting ending where even the fictional object of his affection turns him down (to concentrate on his questing priorities, no less). It’s the personal nature, together with the way that Pallett’s vocals veer from fey to screamingly intense, which makes the sad fates of his characters in almost every song—impotence, boredom, self-harm, being killed by giant fish—compelling rather than abstract.
That the drama works probably owes at least as much to the music that all this is wrapped up in, though. Expanding from Has a Good Home’s template of (mostly) just Pallett’s violin to a string quartet allows for a much richer album musically. The brilliantly inventive, evocative arrangements, rescue the strings from their usual role on indie records as a signifier of grandeur and not much beyond. Even better, he knows not to hem himself in with his concept: while there’s not a guitar in sight, other instruments are used to bring something extra in places, with the piano waltz of “This Lamb Sells Condos” a particular highlight and thwacking percussion brought to the start of “Song Song Song,” the most upbeat moment of the album.