Majical Cloudz make music that constantly makes you question the ideas of comfort and contentment. At least, that was the case with their stunning debut album Impersonator, where the stripped, expository tracks put subject matter like death, isolation, and loneliness on display, but presented it in a way that didn’t feel morbid or dismally self-congratulating. Devon Welsh and his incessant, unflinching stare while performing meshed well with Impersonator‘s introspective vibe, and over the years, seeing him along with instrumentalist Matthew Otto was almost like stepping into some strange performance art piece. However, it’s exactly that specific brand of discomfort that usually yields absolutely beautiful epiphanies, and by actively indulging in their lush, minimally crafted melodies, it’s hard not to feel some kind of contentment. In their gorgeous new album Are You Alone?, the duo picks up right where they left off, but instead tries to drown the somber soliloquies in waves of ethereal, optimistic synth, attempting to make the dark aspects of reality that much easier to swallow.
After the release of their first two singles of the album along with the title track about a month ago, it was obvious that the duo had taken a different stylistic approach, due to the more lived-in, full-bodied sound that rivaled the minimalism that ravaged their debut. Impersonator‘s allure came exclusively from Devon Welsh’s isolated, Gahan-style croon, constantly propelled by Matthew Otto’s meticulously minimal and highly skilled synth production. When listening closer to the sounds that complete Are You Alone?, it’s clear that Welsh, although still beautifully stark and focused in his delivery, can’t help but sound more enamored and sensitive, almost like an intense weight has been lifted off his shoulders. The album as a whole simply feels lighter and less aggressive, despite the fact that the tracks deal with the same sort of dismal subject matter that was presented in their debut, but that in no way diminishes the beauty that takes the helm. Speaking of which, “Control” sits comfortably within that realm, presented almost like a confessional, where Welsh asks questions that may or may not have a direct answer. “So Blue” is simple in construction, but in turn represents that unassuming power that the duo so securely holds in their hands. Title track “Are You Alone?” is the finest example of Welsh’s gorgeously pained voice, and the few seconds it turns into falsetto is enough to evoke a sense of pure bliss. He is a man that truly is his own art, and it shines through tenfold with every simultaneously soft and harsh vocals.
While Devon Welsh does seem to take all the credit for the duo’s impressive presence, these tracks would cease to gather quite as much attention if it wasn’t for counterpart Matthew Otto. The synth on many of these tracks almost becomes an unrelenting force, morphing and changing along with Welsh’s vocals. “Heavy” is the perfect example of this now-perfected technique, and it becomes one of the most beautiful tracks on the album. Stunner “Downtown” evokes those classic nightlife stereotypes, drawing comparisons to Petula Clark while also remaining comfortably inside their own aesthetic, and it’s in this track where we hear Welsh really straining to truly be heard as he is meant to be heard. Most of the duo’s music has Welsh practically stripping himself bare, and he’s not afraid to do so, but Otto has this talent as well, although he’s harder to recognize. “If You’re Lonely” and “Game Show” are the perfect mix of each contributors’ specific talent, showing the distinct ways they play off each other so well. The lyrical content of Are You Alone? is absolutely amazing as well, and it’s astounding to see Welsh pack so much meaning into a few words. Perhaps that idea is most well presented in the Smiths-esque song “Silver Car Crash,” which is perhaps one of the most mesmerizing songs that the duo have ever produced. The sharpness in both the vocals and the metallic instrumentals punctuate the content incredibly well, and while it’s a sort of anti-love song that sometimes erupts into fatal video game sound effects, the deep, unadulterated passion still transforms it into something beautiful.
Are You Alone? definitely proves to be the least confrontational of Majical Cloudz’s impressive repertoire, although it never skimps on emotion or sense of purpose. While I do prefer the heavier, sharper, and darker sounds that enraptured Impersonator, it’s refreshing to see a band succeed in securing the same feelings initially evoked so long ago, while presenting them in a fresher, more ambitious way. While the subject matter may prove to be daunting or even morbid at times, it’s ultimately a way to feel more comfortable with yourself and your own less than perfect thoughts. So, Majical Cloudz may ask you if you really think you’re alone, but when listening intently to these tracks, it’s clear that the answer is a resounding no.
photo by Tonje Thilesen