Majical Cloudz - songwriter Devon Welsh's project featuring fellow Montreal resident Matthew Otto - made their statement clear with last year's striking EP Turns Turns Turns: minimal music, brooding atmospheres, intimate storytelling. The message is intensified in Impersonator, where only a few, vague traces are left of the 'all over the place' fuzziness of their first, Grimes-empowered LP II. Welsh's ideal of live performance as a moment of openness, where music must not feel invasive, but rather make room for vulnerability, is perfectly encapsulated in every song on the record.
Like their black and white visual aesthetic, everything here sounds consciously direct. Whether it's a piano, or lush synthetic melodies occasionally inundated with white noise, arrangements are scaled down and heavily reliant on repetition. But here sparseness is just a strategy to make everything sound clearer and stronger. A few seconds in you'll realise Impersonator offers the chance to immerse yourself in a deeply personal dimension. Surfacing out of a hypnotic loop of gasps, Welsh's vocals instantly stand out, making a quick transition from a cheerful hum to a large-hearted confession: “See how I'm faking my side of it/I'm a liar I say I make music/I've got time for familiar faces/I wanna feel like somebody's darling”. Often accentuating such moments of reflexivity, Welsh's clear, booming voice exhorts you to leave everything behind and engage. Next thing you know you'll be hanging off his words, like in a passionate face-to-face conversation.
'This is Magic', the record's pro-vulnerability manifesto, deploys no more than a gentle keyboard accompanied by some flickering swishes, too suffocated to be even remotely distracting. Welsh's strong tenor is so foregrounded you almost feel like you're intruding, as he discloses the therapeutic aim of the song, a response to the fear of being left alone: “If this song is the last thing that I do, I feel good that I sang it”. The overall effect can be quite overwhelming, but only in a good way. In the lauded single 'Childhood's Friend' the gravity of the lyrics and the vigour of the interpretation unsettle the apparent tranquility of the music.
The highlight 'Bugs Don't Buzz' takes the trick a step further, telling a heart-rending love story with no more than three notes on the piano, a sequence of permeating thuds and a final boost of noise. Welsh's conscious decision to test the listener's emotional steadiness is explicit in the change of mind in the lyrics: “The cheesiest songs all end with a smile/This won't end with a smile” he announces in the start, only to relent later on: “This might end with a smile, no my love”.
When not busy with devastating ballads, Majical Cloudz fall back on lush little songs designed to induce hypnosis. Besides the wondrous loops of 'Turns Turns Turns' (the only cut from the EP) considerable standouts are the synth-led 'Mister', which played loudly enough makes for a wonderful minimal-wave hymn, and 'Silver Rings', an airy, resonant chant that sees Welsh reassuring himself (“I don't think about dying alone”) with the help of his persuasive croon and a distant falsetto.
As an alternative response to the often overwhelming possibilities offered by technology and the tendencies to abound with details and mix everything up, Impersonator reminds us that minimalism is not just synonymous with reverie or disconnectedness. If the easily distracted are at risk of sleeping through this, fans of emotional tours de force will have a great new addition to their 'best albums of the year' list.
8Giuseppe Zevolli's Score