Release Date: Oct 16, 2015
Record label: Matador
Genre(s): Comedy, Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, Indie Electronic, Comedy/Spoken
On Are You Alone?, Majical Cloudz pick up where the exceptionally beautiful Impersonator left off two years prior, and issue more sparse arrangements of hypnotic, minor-key electronics under plaintive cries and intimate observations, like a subdued, post-apocalyptic offspring of the Blue Nile. The album begins like a dust bowl sunrise, with plunking, distorted piano tones, and Devon Welsh's calm, covetous vocals on the loss-pervaded "Disappeared" ("Those that forever disappeared/All I want is for you to talk to me"). It's impressionistic, almost Debussy-like but with fewer notes, and eventually saxophone and the soft sounds of rushing water.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. Majical Cloudz make extremely surprising music. This is not because there are so many hidden layers and depths to their sound, but in fact the exact opposite: everything is presented front and centre with no masking whatsoever. There's the simple atmospheric sound bed provide by Matthew Otto, then singer Devon Welsh's voice on top crystal clear with the stress of every emotion audible in each extended vowel.
A peculiar feeling of repose and stateliness surrounds the music of Majical Cloudz, a duo that compresses elephantine emotions in dense, minimal suites. There is no place too small for them to occupy, sculpting simple ideas into grand gestures that are filled with beauty and awe. Their adherence to a certain impersonality, at least in presentational terms, manifests a sheer absence of being; the album covers are coated in delicate hues of white, and the only text you see is the title itself, though they’re always carefully chosen words, meaningful and exact.
Majical Cloudz have always been a deeply emotional band. The band’s breakout, 2013’s ‘Impersonator’, was enough of an affecting listen. ‘Are You Alone?’ takes the instrumentation displayed there and makes it even more sparse, amplifying and isolating vocalist Devon Welsh’s words to a point where they’re never removed from being the absolute focal point.
Halfway through Majical Cloudz's set at the 2014 Pitchfork Music Festival, the music cut out, leaving singer Devon Welsh alone with a live microphone in front of 6,000 people. The scene put a new spin on an old bad dream: Not only had Welsh shown up to class without clothes on, but the classroom had become a baseball field and everyone on it was a little bit drunk. After a couple of dumb jokes (the packing peanuts of any good showman), Welsh canvassed the audience for requests and ended up singing an a capella version of an already startlingly intimate song called "Bugs Don't Buzz" from the band's 2013 album Impersonator ("If life could be forever one instant/ Would it be the moment you met me? No, my love").
My lasting memory of seeing Montreal duo Majical Cloudz perform is singer Devon Welsh’s maniacal stare – huge, unwavering eyes that burned into the air. No matter that producer Matthew Otto was prodding keyboards behind him, Welsh seemed solitary. Similarly, their second album bears that sense of being alone in a room full of people. Their electronic pop songs detail the breakdown of a relationship with the sad detachment of someone who feels misunderstood.
If you've seen Majical Cloudz frontman Devon Welsh live, you know that he performs his stark, unapologetically and straightforwardly emotional songs with almost unsettling focus and calmness. He spent the 2013 POP Montreal show I attended "staring intently into the crowd" and "entered a bit of a trance-like state until each song's end. "Majical Cloudz's songs have always been emotional, but they sometimes felt robotic, as though Welsh wanted to tell us something but was afraid to fully commit.
Devon Welsh has no interest in small talk. The Montreal-based songwriter, the bug-eyed and baritone half of art-pop duo Majical Cloudz, only seeks out sincere, high-stakes conversations — at least on record, if not in person. Welsh’s lyrics waste no time on pleasantries, on gently acclimating the listener to his preferred topics of discussion, which include, but are not limited to: obsession, daydreaming about death, being afraid of love, the inescapability of death, finding love, and what happens after death.
Devon Welsh, singer and primary lyricist of duo Majical Cloudz, has a habit of locking eyes with audience members during concerts, and not breaking the eye contact for uncomfortably long periods of time. It's become something of a legend around the band. And, at least if new album Are You Alone? is any indication, it might be the perfect way to experience this music: someone singing the words, eyes boring into your soul.
It's safe to say that a downbeat, electronic indie album, heavy on the synths and hot on the topics of obsession, loneliness and the fear of love is not such an anomaly these days. Can Montreal duo Devon Welsh and Matthew Otto aka. Majical Cloudz take these elements, all staples of their new album Are You Alone?, and make them special? Let's start with the unforgettable showstopper: latest single 'Downtown'.
Everybody has gray days, the sort of days where things just seem leaden and dulled. There might be a reason. There might not. These aren’t the worst days, not the awful days where (at least in personal experience) music choices typically consist of either the stuff that’ll let you wallow in the perception of the world as abyss or the stuff aimed at completely rejecting the darkness.
Devon Welsh is the lightning inside Canada's Majical Cloudz, a coiled bolt of emotion whose out-sized oversharing often captures in a lyric the precise moment where you either fall head over heels in love with someone for their vulnerable bravery, or lurch for the door. "Can I try to be you?" he sings plangently in "Control" over droning organ and what sounds like a spatula thwacking a cookie sheet. "Can I dress up in your clothes and be somebody new?" Even when he breaks the spell with a winky stage aside ("I like it when the song goes slow"), it's haunting, sexy, head-trippy stuff.
"Make it dark, make it grim, make it tough, but then, for the love of god, tell a joke." That's a Joss Whedon quote. But it could have been a quip by Devon Welsh of Montreal duo Majical Cloudz. Once again, he and Matthew Otto have released a record of gutsy, bare-bones, emotionally charged synth hymns. Once again, Welsh - heir to Ian Curtis and Leonard Cohen - traverses bleak territory, nights of "red wine and sleeping pills," "cheap sex and sad films." But then he jokes about his head splitting open in Silver Car Crash, a love song inspired by Warhol, and the best vehicular fetish electronic noise jam since Warm Leatherette.
It was 4.15am. I unmistakably remember being woken up by the coarse sound of a barking dog. I also immediately knew something was wrong. Roughly three or four minutes passed before my mother burst into my room telling me we had to go to the hospice - my grandmother was dead. As I stumbled my way ….
“Are you alone?” — That’s quite the loaded question for an album title. It’s many things at once — an expression of sympathy, a pick up line, a vaguely menacing taunt — and on their third album, Canadian electronic pop duo Majical Cloudz manage to conjure a sound evocative of all three distinct sentiments. Like their contemporaries and associates the xx and the National, Devon Welsh and Matthew Otto have predominantly one mode — slow, moody atmospherics — and they do it very well.