Devon Welsh (top) and Matthew Otto
It’s inevitable for artists to evolve over time, although for a self-assured local act like Majical Cloudz, who emerged on the scene so fully formed and with a unique set-up, potential avenues for growth could have been limited.
Despite not really changing configuration or mindset, singer Devon Welsh and accompanist Matthew Otto’s second album as Majical Cloudz, Are You Alone?, feels different from their first. Like 2013’s Impersonator, it’s still minimal arrangements and Welsh’s raw vocals atop it all. Only this time, it’s just a hair brighter, and it makes a world of difference. Reviews might still refer to Welsh as a sad sack, but he’s really not. There’s just a lot of emotion to process.
“Happy music is almost manic if you break it down, and I think sad music is about leading you into a negative space and not offering any solutions,” Welsh says. “It’s about staying in sadness, which isn’t necessarily bad, but this album isn’t like that. I don’t see the music is downcast or pessimistic, it’s just that the emotions are unguarded or less aggressively charged, so maybe that’s why people describe it as sad.”
So besides some light touches from Owen Pallett, it’s still just Welsh completely bearing his soul and Otto keeping things elegant in the background. Yet the duo have managed to explore new terrain on Are You Alone?: Welsh’s vocals are an uptick higher, which are either a result of Otto’s warmer tones, or vice-versa. The two grey-ish videos released in support of the album, “Silver Car Crash” and “Downtown,” which were shot around Van Horne and Parc – where that old building was torn down – actually find Welsh running ecstatically across the train tracks.
“They’re different kinds of songs, but I never really thought too consciously about that. I wasn’t thinking about singing differently until people heard it and starting telling me I was,” Welsh admits.
The already acclaimed “Downtown” is especially a song that seems to do more thanks to their stripped down approach and simple, devastating lyrics. American indie R&B artist How to Dress Well said on Twitter the song’s line “If suddenly I die/I hope they will say/that he was obsessed and it was okay” was one of the best he’d ever heard. Welsh says the song was almost cut from Are You Alone? entirely.
“It’s not that I detest the song, but it didn’t fit for me. I don’t know what it was. I wouldn’t say it’s sarcastic, but there’s a certain cleverness to it that made me uncomfortable.”
It turns out the most lauded song from Impersonator, “Childhood’s End,” was in the same boat.
“’Childhood’s End’ was an outlier. This one is an outlier too. They stick out a bit too much. I want an album to feel continuous,” he says.
On “Silver Car Crash,” love and death collide as they do on the Smiths’ tragic-but-weirdly-uplifting “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out,” and while Morrissey was at most an unintentional inspiration, Welsh says Smashing Pumpkins, of all bands, had an impact on his music.
“I didn’t listen to them a lot in high school, I got more into them later. My interest in them has slowly built over time,” Welsh explains. “I listened to some of their albums over the last year and I was struck by the big, intense songs of Siamese Dream. I like dramatic and theatrical music in general, that take you to a place that’s emotional with big peaks. I was inspired by that. They’re a huge arena rock experience and our music is nothing like that, but it was more about creating those emotional peaks for people who listen to us.” ■
Majical Cloudz launches Are You Alone? with opening acts She-Devils, Homeshake and DJboyzclub at the Phi Centre (407 St-Pierre) on Friday, Oct. 23, 10 p.m., $11.25