Devon Welsh doesn’t blink in his music video for “Silver Car Crash”. He stands there in a black and white filter looking directly at the camera, forcing eye contact with you. It almost feels embarrassing and you know you should look away, but there is something trustworthy in his eyes. That feeling is what the entirety of “Are You Alone”, Majical Cloudz’s latest album, creates.
Majical Cloudz is the product of Devon Welsh and Matthew Otto. The duo is known for releasing emotional songs with their classic formula of Welsh’s unembellished singing style and Otto’s subtle synths. “Are You Alone” carries that tradition, but there seems to have been some character development. The title track “Are You Alone” serves to be a cure for the helpless feelings described in Radiohead’s “Motion Picture Soundtrack”. He quotes actual verses, but responds in a more optimistic way. He even sings at the end “what’s the point of a sad, sad song”. Welsh isn’t creating sad songs, but honest ones. He is exposed through the entire album, which makes him trustworthy because he is so straightforward to his listeners. In songs like “Downtown” Welsh describes his love for someone, but doesn’t cover it up with a plethora of metaphors and allusions to be analyzed and dissected. He sings “and if I suddenly die/ I hope they will say that he was obsessed and it was okay”, and the meaning is right there, completely pure. It is a part of his charm that he doesn’t rely on overwrought lyricism or dramatic vocal arrangements to assuage how exhibited he is. He wants his audience to hear him for who he is, and maybe in that way help them. “Heavy” he sings “You’ve gotta learn to love me/ cause I am what I am” and it’s uplifting for anyone to hear. Even songs like “So Blue” that holds the most minimalist lyrics in the album stands out as memorable for how resonating it is.
Otto is careful to make sure the music never empowers Welsh, but doesn’t disappear entirely in the background. He creates a balanced dichotomy between lyrics and music, only prodding or supporting whatever Welsh croons. The first track “Disappeared” has a saxophone playing towards the end, but it feels as if it has been playing all along. If anything, Otto designs the music to help establish scenes like in “Silver Car Crash” the choir filling in the gaps between Welsh’s singing provide an insight to the realization that he is in love. “Game Show” attracts the most attention; the rising choir accompanied with the fast xylophone paints a picture of a starry night and a shooting star respectively. He wants this song to feel as fleeting as the person he is criticizing for leaving his life so suddenly. Majical Cloudz makes for a great duo because they are dependent on each other. Welsh’s voice and lyricism become too bare without Otto’s ability to create an ethereal sound. Otto’s synths and light percussion become too tenuous without Welsh’s emotion and honesty. It’s a delicate blend, but the effect is breathtaking.
The listener can feel comforted by Welsh’s assurance that everything is going to be alright and the ambience Otto creates only supports that. Majical Cloudz has created an album that highlights the harsh truths of living, but makes the reality enjoyable and less terrifying. At the very end Welsh sings “I remember how it ends we survive/and the audience sighs/ yeah”. Yeah.