Release Date: May 21, 2013
Record label: Matador Records
Genre(s): Electronic, Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Rock, Indie Electronic, Post-Rock
In 2012, Montreal producer Devon Welsh introduced the world to Majical Cloudz with II, a collection of a few years' worth of his glitch-pop productions featuring contributions by like-minded friends and collaborators like Grimes. It was a sputtering, often messy affair, offering a different take on the dark, layered, and sometimes overwhelming sounds being explored by other Montreal artists like Doldrums, Blue Hawaii, and Grimes. Between II and Impersonator, the Turns Turns Turns EP surfaced: four songs that were incredibly stark by comparison, focusing more on slight instrumental arrangements, implied ghostly rhythms, and Welsh's vocals brought out of the swamp of scattershot samples and effects it had lived in before.
Majical CloudzImpersonator[Matador; 2013]By Will Ryan; May 29, 2013Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOGIn a field used to haze and obfuscation Montreal’s Majical Cloudz mix frontman Devon Welsh’s vocals well in front of the music. The group’s focus, on their debut LP, Impersonator, is bare emotion and the duo’s sparse, semi-ambient electronic landscapes serve as a canvas for Welsh’s anguished inner dialogs about death, loss, and love. The music is exceedingly introverted, Welsh’s lyrics conforming to anxiety’s inward dance of indecision and contradiction.
Imagine someone at your otherwise-mundane party has dropped ecstasy; he's the only one there who has done so. Flushed, sweaty, intense, he stares everyone directly in the eyes and says things like "I see this light coming from behind and growing to enormous size. This is magic." Ignoring everyone's obvious discomfort, he presses on mercilessly: "Hey mister," he asks, locking eyes with you.
The name may appear like it was penned by a kindergartener’s crayon, but Canada’s Majical Cloudz create sparse bursts of emotive electronica that’s anything but whimsical. Lead singer Devon Welsh’s baritone grumble is the only emotive element of Majical Cloudz besides collaborator Matthew Otto’s bare-bones chords, a welcome relief from the maximalist stylings of many contemporary artists working with synth loops and samplers. Rather, the duo utilize minimalist instrumentation, focusing instead on casting a spell on the listener with quietly unsettled lyrics like, “I want to feel like somebody’s darling.
Majical Cloudz - songwriter Devon Welsh's project featuring fellow Montreal resident Matthew Otto - made their statement clear with last year's striking EP Turns Turns Turns: minimal music, brooding atmospheres, intimate storytelling. The message is intensified in Impersonator, where only a few, vague traces are left of the 'all over the place' fuzziness of their first, Grimes-empowered LP II. Welsh's ideal of live performance as a moment of openness, where music must not feel invasive, but rather make room for vulnerability, is perfectly encapsulated in every song on the record.
It’s amazing how the simple act of making eye contact with another human being can be so intimate and completely uncomfortable at the same time. In the most abstract sense of the idea, making eye contact means fully embracing the presence of another person while also putting yourself completely out there to be viewed and studied, meaning that for even a moment’s notice, you are fully invested in one another. It’s a subtle, almost unwarranted type of raw, human connection that the members of Montreal electronic duo Majical Cloudz understand all too well.
Impersonator is at once an odd name for the debut by the Montreal-based Majical Cloudz. (To get the obvious out of the way, yes, the spelling is silly.) If one resorted to the same economy of words that so defines this LP, this duo would be best described as “direct”. Lead singer Devon Welsh—whose resemblance to Mark Strong is a little more than passing—has become well known for his on-stage presence, which elicits reactions ranging from the awed to the humored.
Majical Cloudz could easily be a mess of contradictions. Devon Welsh (the duo's severe, shaven-headed singer) and cool, handsome synth-dude Matthew Otto make songs at once musically minimal and emotionally maximal. Ultimately, it's this contrast that airlifts Impersonator out of the ravine of solipsism. The Montreal pair's Matador debut is a lucid and melodramatic thing; it makes mountains out of molehills and then conquers them to prove a point.
“I’m a liar/I say I make music,” pronounces Devon Welsh on “Impersonator”. The words glide in a field of gyroscopic vocal loops. This is a song constructed by artificially manipulating the voice over time. It’s an illusion. Is it music? Music’s mechanics, after all, are slippery. A ….
Much of the discourse surrounding Impersonator, the latest album from Montreal duo Majical Cloudz, has centered on the band’s unshakeable performances. I can personally attest to the intensity of the live Majical Cloudz experience, as I was able to attend a performance by the band last December. At the start of the show, singer Devon Welsh instructed the entire audience to sit down on the ground.
Montreal’s Majical Cloudz sound like hookah-smoking hippies, but their second album is focused and weighty, not spaced out. Matthew Otto keeps the production spooky, surrounding Devon Welsh with minimal drones and ghostly backing vocals, which spotlight the gripping lyrics. Death is a recurring theme, and also Welsh’s preoccupation with how he conducts his life.
Don't be thrown by the name: The music Montreal duo Majical Cloudz makes is cold, stark and confrontationally intimate. Over a backdrop of loops and electronic drones patient to the point of static, Devon Welsh bellows lyrics so naked they're embarrassing to hear, let alone repeat. His bravery lies in the fact that he doesn't mince words. His talent lies in the fact that so many of his words are universal, however dramatic.
Majical Cloudz is the deceptively silly alias of Montreal-based singer/songwriter Devon Welsh and his collaborator Matthew Otto, who together make plaintive, austere ballads bursting with yearning and loneliness. What's striking about their Impersonator LP is its emphasis on Welsh's voice, a sturdy baritone that navigates melodies with a deliberate, sinewy grace from high up in the mix. Welsh makes the most of very little by repeating words, phrases and sounds over and over in slightly varied cadences, drawing the listener's focus ever deeper into his emotional mess.
Devon Welsh, sole proprietor of spelling-challenged act Majical Cloudz, has a stunning voice. An emotive baritone, it soars above his minimal instrumentation, and is by far the most interesting element of his whisper-soft album. This is bedroom-recorded music made for bedroom listening. (Alone, unless your significant other is turned on by nihilism.) Unfortunately, with few tracks rising above their seemingly sketched out nature, Impersonator is a breathtaking debut defined by all the things it is not.
An impersonator is in many regards, a fraud. When someone tries to imitate something or someone, when they mimic a certain kind of quality, it’s hardly ever a sincere kind of endorsement. For Canadian duo Majical Cloudz, the act of impersonation is perhaps a jokingly, almost mockingly, kind of foreword. The bedroom pop duo’s new album resonates all kinds of feelings and sentiments but yet, being a fraud isn’t what Majical Cloudz seem to be impersonating.
A couple of weeks ago I wrote about Jenny Hval’s remarkable new album, Innocence Is Kinky, arguing that the clarity and sincerity of her lyrics were the key to her importance as an experimental artist. Hval writes about themes like power and body politics in a way that acknowledges that these are bigger issues than the self-exploration in which so many artists endlessly dabble. In other words, her work has an agenda.
Majical Cloudz’ Impersonator, the newest release from the Grimes-friendly Montreal twosome, brings to mind Sigur Ros’s most recent release Valtari. Like Valtari, Impersonator is a beautifully crafted album that teases at a big moment that never seems to come. The close of each song suggests that the following track will bear the climactic fruit Impersonator consistently promises.
“The cheesiest songs all end with a smile,” announces Devon Welsh, his voice caked in weariness and defeat. There’s a pause, while piano chords hang heavy with sorrow; tolling bells ringing calamitous portents of doom. “This won’t end with a smile, my love.” Majical Cloudz don’t really do ‘cheery’. The electronic artist as confessional singer-songwriter is hardly a new phenomenon – The Postal Service nailed it with emo-disco classic ‘Give Up’ in 2003 – but it’s rarely been achieved with such starkness as on Impersonator, Majical Cloudz’ Matador debut.
Although by no means the first musician to live by these means, with his 2012 ‘Turns Turns Turns’ EP Devon Welsh took, quite aptly, a turn. He was smart enough to remove himself from hazy, shrouded production that had previously defined his songs, instead opting for a direct confessional approach, with vocals at the top of the mix.It just so happens that Welsh possesses one hell of a voice. Each note on ‘Impersonator’ is pronounced, bellowed from the proverbial hills.
“I told you that I’d been writing/This song is proof that I’m trying,” sings Devon Welsh on “Impersonator,” the title track off his new album. The key word in the lyric is “trying.” Through his work as part of Majical Cloudz, a Montreal-based synth-pop project with Matthe Otto, Welsh has chronicled his own anxieties about the creative process and more often than not the words he associates with it—lies, illusions, magic—are rooted in deception. His work is often self-referential and even meta-textual, but it’s rarely concerned with seeming clever, witty or cute.