Majical Cloudz - Impersonator | Album Review | By Volume

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Majical Cloudz


I don’t want to share this.

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Author: on July 2, 2013
May 27, 2013

So it’s been a couple of months since Impersonator came out, breaking hearts or wounding them, hurting them and making them feel generally uncomfortable (count those complimentary “emo” comparisons, people), but we at By Volume HQ are only now addressing what the fuck it is. I can’t speak for everyone else, but I needed a couple of months. I needed to let it sit with me a hundred times before I could work out if I even liked it. I reached a verdict about ten minutes ago: this album is special, I’ve decided, but in a way that makes me almost fearful of the Critical Consensus pool that brought it to my attention. Is this the kind of album that evokes a shared response? Should it be shared? Are you guys okay? So far I feel my fears have been suppressed, so watch me become just another person praising it for all the same reasons: its honesty is startling, notably for the brutal way Devon Welsh tells his truths (the first unabashed lines to jump out: “Your father, he is dead / I see him in my head”), but it’s also 2013’s most compassionate album. These songs seek variants on the tender I Love You declaration, perhaps because the album is itself a variant on the idea of the “Break-Up Album”. A better title: the Heart-Ripped-From-Stomach album. And even after that it’s so beautiful that it rarely feels overwrought, or even succeeds in spite of any melodrama.

Phew. I look over everything I just said and I think: who wants to agree with that? Listening to Impersonator is a private experience that just gets described by writing. It’s the opposite of the old “music is a universal language” bullshit, an album for a deep retreat into your own mind. What makes it applicably beautiful, though – like, what gets it shared on blogs – lies in its presentation. I don’t think anyone’s having the same reaction to it, really, but Impersonator is nonetheless made for you to access it. It’s incredibly sparse, but also incredibly harmonious; Welsh folds his vulnerable lyrics into an album just as minimalistic, commanded by his stark vocal performance, supplemented by airy synth and gentle piano chords, the work of partner Matthew Otto. It’s like Otto is giving the listener approach to Welsh; listening to “This Is Magic” as purely a vocal piece would be too daunting, a confrontation pushed by Welsh’s dramatically fluctuating croon, but Otto gets it as close as he can to the gut. His keyboard chords are held for what feel like minutes at a time, suspended for as long as Welsh needs to ruminate, and only changing subtlety underneath him.

It gives you hope for e-mail music: these two are so in step that you wonder how they could have possibly passed song parts back and forth. But like listening to Impersonator, making it involves emotions getting pushed and pulled. Otto’s music becomes a reflection of Welsh’s dramatically contained performance. On stage, Welsh claims he wants to do nothing more with the Majical Cloudz moniker than hold a microphone, and so Otto is making the music that brings his partner to fist pumps and high notes, or to the point where he throws down his mic. Watching a live rendition of “Bugs Don’t Buzz” carried that point home, for me: it’s the most proudly emotive song on an album of many, and Otto creates an ominous backdrop worthy of its finite melodrama. Welsh’s lyrics are rigid – “the cheesiest song always ends with a smile / this won’t end with a smile”, he sings,  like it’s too important to be cheesy – and are brought to breaking point by his partner, the song’s dominating piano chords joined by pockets of noise so miniature you really only hear their traumas.

Speaking to Stereogum, Welsh explained the importance of minimalism on Impersonator: “I wanted to make music that seemed like it was barely there because it felt like a natural reaction to my environment”. That much is evident by how scarce Otto makes himself – his wariness to intrude makes the album dreamy and light despite its emotional turmoil – but it’s also seen in Welsh’s singing. This is an album carried by one voice and one voice only, because that’s who felt it. No one harmonizes with him; he’s on his own even when he’s accompanied, his voice often utilised as an instrument. Obscured voices swirl in and out of the scene on the album’s opener and title track, but only one voice comes through at the end. “Turns Turns Turns” uses a similar trick in its opening moments, Welsh’s voice layered in uniform, like a set of chords.

So yeah: this album is beautiful. I agree. I guess all I want is a better reason for Impersonator’s critical consensus than “it sounds good” or “it sounds simple”. The only challenge I’ve heard to the album from friends was made by fellow staffer Adam Downer, who despaired about what he considered a clumsily executed album: “I just wish someone would harmonize with the guy”. Adam is pointing to Pop Winds, the band Welsh played in prior to Majical Cloudz, and specifically to their album Earth to Friend, which to me and him is like the last majestic blueprint they left to the world before fading away. Pop Winds were as lyrically simple as Welsh’s new project, singing what Adam describes as plainly stated existentialism: “You don’t know who you are / do you know who you are?” was their biggest head-scratcher. The execution, though, was more communal, their songs blending the amorphous guitar work of Animal Collective with spectral electronics. I can see what Adam is saying, but these aren’t songs for people, with questions for others – they’re songs for one person, sent to another. Impersonator finds sublime accompaniment in Otto, but harmonies would debase Welsh’s first person perspective: I dread to think what would become of the devoted “I Do Sing For You”. I wonder who could commit to belting a lyric like “I don’t think about dying alone”, as a backing singer. Impersonator is beautiful in all the ways you said, internet: it has enough plainly stated emotions for its own year-end listicle.  But I think I’ll be listening on my own from now on.

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