Published Oct 15, 2015If 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. Their breakthrough album, titled Impersonator, seemed to ask: "Is this how to feel? Am I doing it right?" It stared into you.
On Are You Alone?, Welsh still sounds like he's staring, but you can hear him smiling, you can feel him reaching, you can visualize tearstains on his cheeks; he wants you to feel something because, audibly, he's feeling it, too. Like Death Cab for Cutie's Transatlanticism (an album of which Welsh is an avowed fan), Are You Alone? is warm and inviting, the moment where a band sound less like they're performing intimacy, honesty and sincerity than they are, simply, being intimate, honest and sincere. "Unsettling" is no longer the word; it's disarming.
On songs like "Disappeared," "Heavy" and "Silver Car Crash," producer Matthew Otto lays out the same delicate, minimal sonic framework he did on Impersonator, but with a lighter, less noticeable touch. There are no electronic stutters or apparent vocal manipulations here; the compositions are comfortable, enveloping, made to emphasize Welsh's performances rather than provide a second point of focus.
On the simple, gorgeous "So Blue" and "Downtown," easily the album's highlights, Otto's arrangements build slowly, almost imperceptibly, to provide long, sweeping climaxes to Welsh's songs as he utters genius lines like, "And if suddenly I die / I hope they will say / That he was obsessed and it was okay."
On Are You Alone?, Majical Cloudz are at the height of their powers, opening themselves up fully and inviting the listener in. They sound obsessed, and "okay" be damned — it feels just right. (Arts & Crafts)