Album Review: Majical Cloudz—“Are You Alone?”

By Helena Najm

The cover is enough to set the tone for the album: Are You Alone? appears, alone, on a dull white backdrop reminiscent of the bare tepui upon which Carl and Russell land in Up. This indicates, even prior to the first listen, that this record will be another minimalistic art-pop effort from the duo that have cemented the style as their signature sound on their breakout 2013 album Impersonator.

The album’s opener “Disappear” starts off so simply, evoking immense emotional buildup between the piano keys as frontman Devon Welsh’s perfectly-imperfect voice croons existential phrases repetitively. If this is the world that Welsh is living in and depicting for his audience, then it is painted in grays, which may carry some warmth but ultimately weigh you down more than Coral’s premature death in Finding Nemo (spoiler alert, though I doubt that any of you have yet to see it).

Album art for Are You Alone?

Album art for Are You Alone?

The tone builds up ever so slightly on “Control” and “Are You Alone?”, as the solemn keys are lifted by the accompaniment of subtle drum tracks. However, as soon as you feel that you may have stepped out of Sadness’ cloud and embraced Joy again, “So Blue” tints your mind. Welsh’s lyrics are so self-aware and familiar to anyone who is uncomfortable showing their emotions or feel as though they are bothering people with their mere existence, as he insists that he can remove his sadness from everyone else’s thoughts and lives. While he may find that to be easy, what he’s really doing is projecting it onto us, so sensitive souls beware – this album will strike a chord in your heart.

“Heavy” and “If You’re Lonely” may not have received as much attention as singles “Are You Alone?” and “Silver Car Crash” but are lovely, slightly more spirited additions to the meaty middle. As beautiful as the album’s ambient tone is, most of the songs feel unfinished, like sparse, unedited, Beat-inspired ramblings over a light synth-wash. With a song called “Change” for instance – you would expect some measurable departure from the rest of the album, but it only offers more of the same.

“Downtown” is an obvious standout, thanks to a combination of Matthew Otto’s simple-but-infectious synth pattern and Welsh’s showcase of passion in his vocal delivery. The rest of the album could have used a little of that shred of animosity. “Easier Said Than Done” adds a little bit of sexiness and mystery to the album and feels a little more human than most of the tracks that precede it.

The album’s penultimate track “Game Show” stirs up some much needed dynamism with its hushed wall-of-sound (courtesy of some sinister sounding minor chords) and could have been a promising album-closer. While “Call On Me” is Welsh’s desperate final cry to his lost lover and friend, it doesn’t feel as satisfying as “Game Show” and doesn’t cover any new ground that the previous tracks did not.

While Majical Cloudz’s music always feels extremely personal, Are You Alone? is teeming with anonymity and distance (their group name doesn’t even figure on the cover). This album makes you wonder how somber lyrics that could only have been written by someone possessed by Sadness herself could be delivered with such a cold, unaffected tone.

The ease with which this emotional-existential opus could connect with every disaffected teen with a Tumblr account seems too perfectly crafted to be by chance. Majical Cloudz’s dark ballads for Generation Z could only be cooked up by Otto’s hands and Welsh’s mind. (Matador)

Listen: “Downtown”


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