Majical Cloudz - Impersonator

Canadian indie-pop duo, Majical Cloudz, release a subdued (and overlooked) ode to innocence.

Additional Info

7.9

ALBUM: Impersonator

ARTIST: Majical Cloudz

2013

Electronic

The sophomore release from Majical Cloudz, Impersonator, plays sort of like an ode to those moments when you were a kid that were maybe just a bit too dark or a bit too real to process at the moment. That pet that "ran away." That friend who moved. That family member you kind of knew (and would probably still recognize even to this day) - who just suddenly stopped showing up the same day your parents were shedding a few tears while telling you nothing was wrong.

It's a collection of nostalgic yet fatalistic musings that try to mask themselves as stark and poignant tales of trials and tribulations - and therein lies this ruminative album's biggest flaw as well as its greatest intrigue. Impersonator unfolds as a series of observations more than anything else, almost seeming to overcorrect for that blissful childhood ignorance by transforming one's state of mind from "I don't think..." to "I don't think...about dying alone." There is a mediative quality to this release that drives the progressively one-note content. Initially interesting and engaging songwriting tries to work as a single entity that progresses through confronting, questioning, and accept life but ultimately leaves us with only a few tidbits of hope or insight that are above the musings of a fortune cookie. The songwriting is strongest at the start, with fantastic quips such as “I’m a liar, I say I make music” or “say goodbye, but I don’t want to...then I don’t have to.” But it soon devolves, like maybe it’s supposed to, into segmented and fleeting thoughts/concerns that half-heartedly attempt to be holistic rather than create an engaging progression.

For an album about life, it's too narrowly (or maybe thoroughly) focused on a few specific, almost morbid, aspects of love, death, happiness, and sadness - although the presentation of the themes and the execution of the content stops it from sinking into an overpowering depression. The main problem is that never seems to be a point being made. Producer and collaborator, Matthew Otto, makes every swooping “ahh” or simple hum reverberate and fill the air with a purposeful allure, giving singer-songwriter Devon Welsh free reign to spin his tales of muted woe, but as a whole, they become the equivalent of jogging in the same spot (even furiously running in the exact same position would probably elicit a more visceral reaction). There's a levity and nostalgic acceptance to the fantastically fitting production that seems to be repressed by Welsh’s venture into this dusty, murky attic in the back of his mind. You could describe many of the tracks in similar fashion: mediative, ruminative, etc. The almost chanting repetition of certain crises the singer faces leaves little room for engaging material but still does a good job of inserting a thought into this cloudy atmosphere and just letting it linger. However, Welsh doesn’t allow for any real climaxes or turning points (ironically not even on the relatively upbeat "Turns Turns Turns") - it's all a stream of consciousness mediation session. A cleansing. But a cleansing is often messy, and, in trying to make his thoughts more accessible, Welsh stumbled into something a bit too repetitive and meandering.

Devon Welsh and his self-taught vocals aren’t always a highlight, which is a shame, because, due to the more reserved nature of the production, the weight of these philosophical musings rests almost solely on his shoulders. He’s developed a curious yet perfectly acceptable form of delivery that varies between a sort of folklore-type story recital and more typical singing. Albeit being an “indie-pop” record, more of a nod at the production and aesthetic rather than the songwriting and singing, Welsh hits the same winy croons as Andy Hull from Manchester Orchestra or even Jeff Mangum from Neutral Milk Hotel. Just not as convincingly. The higher pitches sounds great even if a bit familiar, but his personal nuances, from the way he pronounces certain words to the iffy lower registers he tries to hit, are definitely polarizing and an acquired taste. There are moments of manipulative brilliance as he spins the word “come” to sound like “come home” on “Childhood’s End,” and, for the most part, he seems to know his vocal restrictions but utilizes them well.

By the time we get to the question, “how much do I have to love to grow,” on the closer, “Notebook,” the mystic of the opening track, “Impersonator,” the infectiously sorrowful “Childhood’s End,” and the simply fantastic “Mister” have all become a haze - a byproduct of the self-indulgent structure. Instead of receiving insight, we’re left to ask a dozen more questions - but then again, maybe that’s the point. And that’s great for the post-album discussion but not so much for the music itself.

“How much do I have love to grow”

1. Impersonator
This LP shows great promise with the opening titular track, setting the scene with deep and earthy, folk/country vocals and simple reverberating sighs and hums. It’s mellow and subdued as Welsh flexes a few of those vocal tics but manages to never overstep his reach. “I’m a liar, I said I make music,” he tells us, “I told you that I’ve been writing/this song is proof that I’m trying,” - before going into a sedated “da da da da dum dum dum” melody, followed by confident “yeahs.” It sets the scene for a man removed enough from the content to be clever and purposeful, but, as noted, Welsh ultimately seems to get lost in his own canvas.8.0
2. This is Magic
On the next track, the tempo is hindered even more as it starts slowly and eventually just plateaus into almost the same structure as the opener. Otto admittedly allows a lot of space for Welsh to tell his stories, no matter how hit or miss the final result may be. From “I feel like a kid, I see some monster’s standing over my crib” to “I hear a murderer walk, I hear his footsteps talk through the floors in my house,” the writing is especially intriguing this time around, even if the production and direction of the song isn’t.6.5
3. Childhood’s End
One of my favorite tracks from the album, “Childhood’s End” is more upbeat than the first two songs, and, to match this, Welsh decides to sing about a murder of a friend’s father he witnessed as a child. “Someone died/Gunshot right outside/You’re father...he is dead/I see him in my head/...childhood’s end” stands as one of the most engaging moments of the album, and he manages follow it up with an infectious hook - almost removing all the sadness embedded in the nostalgia. It’s a great accomplishment to keep this infectious yet deeply personally and poignant. Welsh seems to possess a removed assurance of life’s seemingly meaningless pieces being a sort of grand puzzle - and he urges as to accept that as fact. That even the things that seem out of place are, in fact, in place, and, more importantly, have a place in our lives.10.0
4. I Do Sing for You
Although there is nothing to fault regarding the production, at this point the basic structure for the tracks has already worn somewhat thin, making the album sometimes an indistinguishable blend of songs. “I Do Sing for You” finds it’s strengths in the pointedly direct claims, thoughts, and stories presented by Welsh, my favorite being: “now say goodbye, but I don't want to. Then I don't have to.” He somehow seems to have a knack for making even the most endearing lines on paper seem damn near fatalistic when sung. “When you’re gone, I will worship you, I will remember you. Of course I would, I would love to,” channels a layered feeling of melancholy under Welsh’s impressions rather than optimism or satisfaction.7.5
5. Mister
One of my other favorites, “Mister” features some of Welsh’s most accessible singing. For him, that implies self-awareness more than anything else and the acknowledgement of his boundaries as a vocalist. So on this track, Welsh sheds the more odd facets of his delivery for a beautiful and resonating higher pitch, crooning “and the light damns me.” When asking “hey mister, don’t you want to be right here” - part invitation, part genuinely curious probe into another human being’s state of mind - he’s carefully not dip into the deeper end of his vocal spectrum. Maybe a bit too late already, but “Mister” also revisits the more upbeat tempo of “Childhood’s End” that was interrupted by the placidity of “I Do Sing for You.”10.0
6. Turns Turns Turns
Most involved the production has been so far, this track seems to be more of a sonic “turn” than a literary one. It plays almost like a joyful commemoration with swooping “ahhs” that fill the background before clashing with the chant “it turns, it turns” in what’s probably the closest to a “climax” the album gets too. And even that’s brushed away in an instant. Welsh’s habit of making sweeping, removed, observations of the world mixed with bare, personal stories continuous on this record but it also features the introduction of the more repetitive nature of the album. 8.0
7. Silver Rings
The thesis for this track, “I don’t think about dying...alone,” is in the same vein of contradictory assertions by Welsh which don’t seem to coincide with how he sounds or the rest of the album’s atmosphere, or anything. It’s part of his confusion and uncertainty, and even though it’s acceptable for him to take time to piece together these bits, it’s almost as if we’re listening to him do it on the spot - a conceit that starts to lose it’s appeal when it seems to keep the production or overall track stagnant. 6.5
8. Illusion
“Illusions” succeeds where “Silver Rings” fails by having a much shorter runtime for it’s repetitive rumination, but, at the same time, it doesn’t possess any lines as piercing as “I don’t think about dying alone.” As the album progress, there seems to be an apparent tight-wire walk involved in balancing the subtle production and over-arching musings that Otto and Welsh seem to disregard. After striking a great balance early on, they seem to be okay with devolving into more wispy, almost fruitless, tracks - placing more weight on sparse moments (such as the “yeah” or repetition of “illusion”) than they probably should have.6.0
9. Bugs Don’t Buzz
At least on this penultimate track, there is great production (especially towards the end, with the fantastically deep yet fleeting bass) to match the somewhat now one-not content. The writing, which started out engaging and clever, is no longer anything too spectacular, but still self-aware enough to be interesting. “The cheesiest songs all end with a smile,” beings Welsh, before declaring that this “won’t end with a smile.” It’s more of the same as far as being fatalistic goes but matched with the appropriate canvas for a somber yet deeply pessimistic view of the life’s final chapter.8.0
10. Notebook
The final track on Impersonator thankfully features the best of Welsh’s Mangum mimicry, as well as just simply great normal singing - no forced idiosyncrasies or hit or miss attempts at being a bit more unique. It may seem a bit backwards to compliment a singer for not standing out, but with his already nuanced vocals, Welsh’s previous attempts at altering them further haven’t been too successful. On “Notebook” he strikes a beautiful balance. Even though when he wonders “how much do I have love to learn to grow,” we’re left wondering how many just how many open-ended questions he’s gonna ask us today, it’s easy to realize that this disconnect has actually been fostered by the sequencing of the album itself. Removed from the tracks the preclude it, “Notebook” is once again great storytelling led by focused and deliberate singing.8.5
Narsimha Chintaluri is a creative writer currently satiating his need to write by venting about music, tv and film on any given platform.



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