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Final Fantasy

Final Fantasy with Alex Lukashevsky

Thursday · alchemize

Montreal's Owen Pallett answers a largely unasked musical question: What if Paul McCartney had left The Beatles and subsequently used "Eleanor Rigby" and Scott Joplin and Gilbert & Sullivan and Kurt Weill and Mozart and Laurie Anderson and Frank Zappa and Stephen Merritt and Baroque chamber Pop as his jumping off epiphany?

Pallett — known to various and sundry under his alter ego Final Fantasy but perhaps more recognized for his string arrangements and violin accompaniment for the likes of the Arcade Fire and The Hidden Cameras — began his solo musical journey in 2004 when he was asked to participate in a benefit concert and, on a whim, he conceived his violin-and-loop-effects-pedal concept. The ecstatic reaction he received inspired him to hit the studio last year for his full-length debut, Has a Good Home, which found Pallett creating a sparse but layered sonic canvas upon which to paint his haunting violin melodies and Chamber Pop classicism.

After a handful of 7-inch releases, Pallett returns with his sophomore Final Fantasy excursion, He Poos Clouds. Another Baroque delight, Poos features a slightly fleshier sound with the addition of a full chamber quartet as well as a piano, harpsichord and various percussion instruments. Through it all, Final Fantasy's twin centerpieces remain Pallett's gossamer Pop compositions and the tremulous vocals he utilizes in their service, exhibited to full effect on the exquisite chamber Pop drama of "Arctic Circle," the Ragtime-flecked jaunt of "This Lamb Sells Condos" and the Teutonic Jazz vaudeville of "Do You Love?"

Owen Pallett is like Eric Matthews without the guitars, and he's so bloody good, you'll never miss them. (Brian Baker)

Yonder Mountain String Band

Tuesday · Coney Island's Moonlite Gardens

Ever since Yonder Mountain String Band came on the scene in 1999, it's been clear that this wasn't a Bluegrass/Acoustic/Roots music group in any strict, traditional sense of the word. Still, as much as the group was always seen as having a progressive take on acoustic music, mandolin player Jeff Austin says it's only with the group's newly released, self-titled CD that listeners are truly hearing the band's forward-thinking attitude translating into the music.

"On the first couple of records, we stuck our necks out a little bit, and cracked the window, and maybe it's a little too hot out there," Austin says, trying to illustrate how the band's willingness to take risks has grown.

"On this (new) one we threw the window open with both hands and leaned out."

The result of that attitude is a CD that once and for all is sure to set Yonder Mountain String Band apart from any group playing traditional Bluegrass, Folk or any other variation of Acoustic music. The band's Bluegrass influence is still hugely evident, as half of the CD's dozen tracks feature the kind of frisky melodies and blazing banjo and mandolin playing that are hallmarks of the style. But other songs push musical boundaries in both subtle ways (the blend of Pop vocal lines with Bluegrass on "Sidewalk Stars" and the aggressive undercurrent of "East Nashville Easter") and obvious ways (the use of drums — courtesy of Pete Thomas of Elvis Costello's Imposters — on the punchy Folk rocker "How 'Bout You?" and the way the band brings a bluesy, spooky edge to "Angel").

Then there was the choice to use a producer whose background was Rock and not Roots music. Tom Rothrock, known for his work with Beck, Elliott Smith and The Foo Fighters, brought a different outlook and an encouraging attitude toward experimentation and risk-taking to the project. But the fact that a Rock influence filtered into the self-titled CD shouldn't shock those familiar with the true roots of the YMSB.

All four band members played in Rock bands before moving to the Boulder, Col., area, where they met during acoustic jam sessions in the late 1990s. It wasn't until this time that Austin and his bandmates seriously began to explore Bluegrass, using that style as a starting point for the music they were just starting to create as the YMSB.

"(People recently have asked) 'Aren't you abandoning your roots?' " Austin relates. "Roots? My roots are the J. Geils Band and REO Speedwagon. My roots were Motörhead and Judas Priest. Those were my roots."

The band's earlier music had already struck a chord with a wide range of music fans, as the group built an enviable career without the backing of an outside record label. Over an eight-year period, the group self-released on its own Frog Pad Records label two studio CDs, Elevation (1999) and Town By Town (2001) and four separate volumes in its series of Mountain Tracks concert CDs, plus a studio album with veteran singer/songwriter Benny "Burle" Galloway called Old Hands in 2004. Along the way, the group's touring base has mushroomed. After hitting the road to play small clubs in 1999, YMSB built a large following within the Jam band and acoustic music scenes. The band now typically headlines theaters and large clubs and plays some of the most prestigious music festivals.

In addition to building its live following on the road, the band is also seeking out a wider audience on another front. Yonder Mountain String Band marks the band's first CD that's not self-released. Instead, the group has signed with Vanguard Records.

"Vanguard Records had been courting us for a few years," Austin says. "We kind of just hit a point and said, 'You know, I love playing music and touring, and I love doing this and that, but wouldn't it be awesome if we could sell some records? Wouldn't it also be awesome if we could get these records and these songs on the radio?"

For their Coney Island stop, YMSB is playing two sets, immediately following Riverbend's Fourth of July fireworks display. (Alan Sculley)

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