The increasing convenience of technological advancement has made means of making electronic music more readily available, which in turn allows its creators to make it as complex as they want. The explosion of dubstep, experimental pop, and various other niche influences are seeping into popular music genres as a result. But even more intriguing is the result of artists who use that technology not to piggyback on existing sounds, but to break through into entirely new ones. Enter Majical Cloudz, who eliminates all of the available excess and strips down the music to expose its core: the product of human emotion.
“I’m a liar — I say I make music,” Devon Welch confesses on the opening track to the spectacular Majical Cloudz new LP, Impersonator. He’s being ironic, if not outright facetious; Welch has been making music for some time now. The 24-year-old performer is a product of the DIY scene in Montreal where a loft venue housed artists such as Mac DeMarco, TOPS, Sean Nicolas Savage, and close friend and fellow McGill University student Claire Boucher, aka Grimes. The people who owned this venue called Lab Synthèse now operate Arbutus Records, where many of these musicians still call home, and much like their peers, Welch and songwriting partner Matthew Otto expand their scope with their debut album for Matador Records.
Majical Cloudz began with a sound chaotically constructed of samples and fragments of electronic noise, with Welch’s vocals everywhere but the forefront on 2012 LP II. Follow-up EP Turns Turns Turns, released in December, delivered a much more concise musical approach. With Otto creating the musical climate housing Welch’s chilling vocals, Majical Cloudz’s sound went from erratic to painfully blunt. Welch’s emotional directness is, in fact, the most attractive element to the awkwardly named synth-pop duo; he’s even said that his live shows are best when the room is dead silent, so he can give the audience that in-your-face emotion that makes his music so powerful. Fittingly, he’s the first thing you hear on the album — Impersonator opens with a looped vocal harmony and two chords on a synthesizer, coated with Welch’s Matt Berninger-like croon about finding purpose in the world.
“Childhood’s End” is one of the many compelling songs on the album, lyrically centered on the prominent theme of life and death. Its video stars Welch’s father Kenneth Welch, who played the vice president in The Day After Tomorrow, but is most commonly known as Windom Earle in Twin Peaks. Meanwhile, “I Do Sing For You” is the true definition of musical minimalism. The song reads like a sentiment of how to deal with desire and love. Musically, the track holds layers of ominous pulses fading in and out, with a choir emphasizing the climax as Welch sings, “Now say goodbye, but I don’t want to, then I don’t have to.”
Welch holds nothing back by placing his anxieties and fears into his vocals. By distancing himself from the sounds he explored earlier, he has opened his music up to grow into something without boundaries. What Majical Cloudz has become is due in part to allowing space for the listener to immerse him- or herself. The vocals, and lyrics, are front and center, with minimal distraction. Such simplicity combined with raw emotion has the power to draw in the listener, and bring them face-to-face with their own fears in the process.