By Colin Gallant
Majical Cloudz went from palling around Montreal as part the Arbutus Records (Grimes, Blue Hawaii) crew to being signed to Matador Records in the U.S. to opening stadium shows for goth teen sensation Lorde in a matter of just over a year. This all came on the strength of their first proper record Impersonator. What’s strange about this is how muted, simplistic and understated the album’s presence was. As we can hear again on follow-up Are You Alone?, the pairing of singer/lyricist Devon Welsh’s direct feeling and Matthew Otto’s ghostly minimalism combines to make roars out of whispers.
Are You Alone? isn’t a wild leap from Impersonator. More so, it’s stripped down even further. Sparing organ, synthesizer lines, electronic drums and occasionally strings and horns form the safety net for Welsh’s bold vulnerability. It’s necessary to have comforting sounds when you’re up against lines like “Red wine and sleeping pills, you’re gonna die, so you say, but you’re here still” on the title track.
Death is a common topic throughout. As is life, as are dreams and films and love. Welsh wanders between passionate declarations and obfuscations in his subject matter. What often sounds like a statement is really a question. Using nursery rhyme and lullaby structures, Welsh shoves his heart down your throat while questioning what it all amounts to. On “Easier Said Than Done,” he demands to know, “Why would you wanna die? It’s easier said than done. And what about my love?”
What makes it all work is catharsis. The extremes of human emotion are forefront on every track. Welsh scores his absolutes with just enough riddles to keep both your mind and heart at attention throughout and pleasantly exhausted by the end.