Majical Cloudz began as the small-scale musical outlet for Montreal singer Devon Welsh, but around the release of 2013’s Impersonator full-length, the project grew significantly in scope. Welsh and producer Matthew Otto signed with the prestigious Matador Records, earned rave reviews from practically every taste-making publication under the sun, and opened for New Zealand teen pop sensation Lorde on a 2014 tour. All of this meant that, when the duo Otto set about writing last fall’s Are You Alone?, they knew that the world was listening.
“I think that’s always a head trip and kind of creates issues, because you’re writing knowing that you have an audience,” Welsh says of the group’s rise to prominence. “The less I’m thinking about that, the more I’ll be making songs that I actually like.”
To overcome this burden of expectations, Welsh and Otto stuck with what they do best. Are You Alone? is a continuation of the ultra-minimal electronic-pop sound that got Majical Cloudz noticed in the first place, with Welsh’s dramatic delivery typically supported by nothing more than hushed synth tones and muted rhythms.
“We took a lot more time making it,” the vocalist says of the new recording. “We had a lot more time to put into it, but we didn’t really do anything differently in terms of how it was put together in the end.”
What’s most immediately striking about Are You Alone? is Welsh’s lyrics, which display a complete lack of bashfulness. “Silver Car Crash” is particularly soul-baring, as Otto’s heavenly keyboard tones provide the sublime backdrop for Welsh’s fantasies about dying while embracing his partner. He sings, “My head splits open/For all the cameras flashing/But I am dead already/And I am bleeding onto you.” Other songs are less gory but no less heartfelt: backmasked ambiance sets a dreamy backdrop for Welsh’s lovestruck declarations on “Downtown”, while “So Blue” is a melancholy reflection on romantic struggles that features lullabylike orchestrations from composer Owen Pallett. (More contributions from Pallett can be heard on the newly unveiled Wait & See outtakes EP.)
Although the stripped-down soundscapes aren’t a departure for Majical Cloudz, Welsh points out that Are You Alone? has a brighter mood than the dark, unsettling Impersonator. “I felt like it was more satisfying to me personally to try to make music that had more of a positive edge to it, and expressed something that was emotionally enriching to me while I was working on it,” he explains. “I was really looking to make music that made me feel good.”
This means that fans who show up to the band’s upcoming Vancouver gig can expect an upbeat night that will be very different from past local appearances. “Around the time that Impersonator came out, the shows were a lot more serious and heavy-handed,” Welsh reflects. “As time has gone on, and especially as we started playing these newer songs, the shows feel more emotionally positive and comforting. At this point, what the project means to me is that I want it to be a positive place for listeners who are interacting with it—for it to be fun.”
Majical Cloudz plays the Cobalt on Friday (January 22).