You can sense the music that Majical Cloudz creates staring into your soul the same way you feel Devon Welsh’s unblinking eyes piercing and stitching you up all at once. The sound of Majical Cloudz is bathing in that small, warm patch of light streaming into an otherwise dark room. There are icicles on the mantel.
Are You Alone? takes off where the Montreal duo’s preceding Impersonator left off; a paradox of bare-bones, minimalist soundscapes ebbing with lush depth that are somehow simultaneously tranquilizing and uplifting. Welsh’s immaculately vulnerable monologues and unflinching vocals are gently bold, and they drive their synth lullabies forward with severe care. Calculatedly organic, passionately controlled, it’s a journal reading in a dream.
Not much has changed in that regard; it’s still quintessentially Majical Cloudz. If anything, this new record has shrunk the band’s dynamism to an even narrower midrange. Gone are the pitter patterings of “Mister” and the thick locomotion of “Childhood’s End.” Even the already opaque and pale cover art of it’s predecessor is scaled back to a purer incarnation sans artist name. It’s austerity at its most suffocating.
"Will you let me change? / I want to but I think you want me the same,” Welsh asks on “Control.” And it’s a fair assumption. While there is certainly little evolution here, who can complain when the niche carved out is so compelling and captivating even at it’s most static? Majical Cloudz may need to diversify at some point in the future to keep the fast-paced music world interested, but that time is unimaginable as of today. In “Heavy,” he concludes with calligraphic repetition, "You gotta learn to love me / Cause I am what I am.”
And what is he? Undoubtedly an acquired taste for some, yet his lyrical content is not that far removed from the pop platitudes of Top 40 with lines like, "And we're going downtown / Cause we feel like running around / Is it really this fun when you're on my mind? / Is it really this cool to be in your life?” in lovely standout “Downtown.” The uniqueness in Welsh’s artistry is not necessarily every sentiment in itself, but the crushing sincerity and earnestness in which they are mined and delivered.
Welsh's simplicity is always innate and genuine, never formulaic. It’s as if his words are leaking out of a very well-produced private tape recorder one’s stumbled upon in the night. Though Are You Alone? as a whole is an offer of companionship, there is still a sense of shouting into the void as the title track implores, "What's the point of a sad, sad song / Do You hear what I'm saying / Or not at all?"
There is at least one change since Impersonator, however, and that is somewhat of an upward emotional turn. While the previous record is near end-to-end misery, Are You Alone? often transitions into glimpses of sanguine, childlike wonder. "And if suddenly I die / I hope they will say / That he was obsessed and it was okay,” he admits. His obsession is crippling and cathartic and carries over to the listener by IV.
The first time I heard leading single “Silver Car Crash” I was strapped to a Boeing in the process of taking off. What ensued was a fitting 4D experience, literally soaring along with the track’s whirring body and Smiths-esque, morbid confessions of adoration. As the pressure pushed me back down into the seat to spite the adrenaline I wondered how much of it was my own inertia and how much of it was Welsh himself, slowly constricting around me. I hoped my vessel would fare better than his own vehicle's violent end.
"And I know love is worth it / I am in perfect love with you / But I am dead already / And I am bleeding onto you / I hope you won't forget me / I am so hopelessly for you" he asserts in his final breath. It's Welsh at his most overbearing, and yet his tight grip is irresistible. Unlike "Bugs Don't Buzz," Are You Alone? might just end with a smile, even if it's a crooked one softly broken on the dashboard.