Majical Cloudz – Are You Alone?

DOMINIQUE HUA reviews the Montreal duo’s third album.

Photo credit: courtesy of artist
Photo credit: courtesy of artist

On ‘Control’, the second track on Majical Cloudz’s third album Are You Alone?, Devon Welsh asks in an incongruously matter-of-fact manner ‘Is this going too slow?’. Only two songs in and already new listeners may well reply: ‘Yes. It is. Speed this up, please.’

Give it time. Firstly, because the synth-pop duo do not care (Welsh adds ‘cause I like it when the song goes slow’ two lines later.) Secondly, because if the first few tracks are almost sedate in their tempo, with simple motifs and minimalist percussion, you would be mistaken to dismiss it as tedious lethargy. Listen carefully, and the emotional urgency of Welsh’s lyrics is evident. Alone focuses on yearning and intimacy, a more candid and soul-baring song than any on their 2013 release. The singer moves away from the slight crypticness of the lyrics from Impersonator, and here his choice of words are simple, virtually monosyllabic, but they possess an emotional weight that is at times unbearable: ‘I want to kiss you/ Inside a car that’s crashing’ from ‘Silver Car Crash’ stands as a good example. This is Majical Cloudz at their most honest, as Welsh beautifully navigates big themes of love, death, intimacy, and loneliness to the sound of Otto’s painstakingly pared down instrumentation. The orchestration is all about minimalism, even more so than their previous work. Single motifs are repeated over and over; synths imitate strings and horns while the percussion pulses steadily in the background. Otto is no longer interested in sampling Welsh’s voice and layering it as on Impersonator, this time he allows the singer’s melancholy tone and emotional honesty to shine through.

Photo credit: Tonje Thielsen/Pitchfork
Photo credit: Tonje Thielsen/Pitchfork

Gems on the album include the singles released in the months prior to Alone’s release. The title track, with its allusions to Radiohead’s ‘Motion Picture Soundtrack’, is overwhelmingly moving. ‘Silver Car Crash’ is perhaps the densest and most layered song, taking the record to its affecting climax, whilst on ‘Downtown’, Welsh croons in an intoxicated state, ‘Nothing you say will ever be wrong/ ‘cause it just feels good being in your arms’. There are a few slow burners; ‘So Blue’ (a Majical Cloudz’s take on ‘Blue Moon’) is lovely, as is ‘Call on Me’, the closing track of the album. However, a few songs, notably those which see the singer in a state of apathy or adolescent accusation, do not carry the same gravity as the optimistically melancholy ones. On occasion, the syllabic way in which the lyrics fall makes some songs come across somewhat awkwardly, with the minimalism seeming forced, not graceful.

Alone doesn’t purport to be a perfect album. It is flawed as its creators are, in ways we all are. To be as honest as Welsh is, there has to be some sense of self-aware imperfection. ‘You gotta learn to love me,’ Welsh proclaims on ‘Heavy, ‘cause I am what I am’. And it is hard, in the face of this album, to refuse to do so.


Are You Alone? was released October 16 by Matador.

Majical Cloudz will be playing at St John on Bethnal Green November 11.