Have you seen Andy Warhol’s “Silver Car Crash” print? It’s bleak, blunt, black, white, and unmistakable. The car hangs off in two parts like a badly broken arm, the seats are exposed. It’s not funny. Majical Cloudz don’t know what “funny” means. No – and if you hadn’t been convinced of that before, “Silver Car Crash,” the group’s Smiths-ian lead single off their new record Are You Alone? is here to convince you. On their sophomore project, the Montreal duo get no less bleak, if a little more achingly loving.
The track, like all on the album, deals in unflinching bluntness about real, true love. Cut intermittently with stabs of screaming-choral-synth, the lyrics on “Silver Car Crash” are as upsetting and representative of the band’s ethos as any they’ve ever written. Take a minute to digest the song’s third verse, wherein Devon Walsh, the group’s sole vocalist, describes a “funny” dream he’s having:
“My head splits open
For all the camera’s flashing
But I am dead already
And I am bleeding onto yo
I hope you won’t forget me
I am so hopelessly for you”
The majic of Majical Cloudz in their ability to look dead into the camera. Their prose is short. Their songs are steady, percussion & chorus-less lists of unveiled insecurities, missteps, mistakes, sadness, and shortcomings. Their lyrics are centered around roughly three topics (being alive, being dead, and love) all sung in Devon Welsh’s unwieldy drone, prone to off-notes and (what might strike the casual listener as) too much honesty.
On their last record, Impersonator, Welsh asked “If life could be forever one instant, would it be the moment you met me?” then quickly answered his own question: “No, my love.” On Are You Alone? he says, referring to the love of his life: “If suddenly I die, I hope they will say/That he was obsessed and it was okay” (“Downtown”).
For Majical Cloudz, it’s life or death. Love doesn’t mean anything until it’s for forever – until it’s something to be lost in and obsessed with and anxious about. Fittingly, on the gorgeous opener, “Disappeared,” Welsh equates death with loss-of-love, atop lazily floating piano. On every track, the instrumentation courtesy of Matthew Otto, is near hypnotic – engaging, repetitive, and understated. Breathing gloom with enough room left to accommodate the contents of Welsh’s battered, rain-addled composition notebook – the music is the smartest type of melodramatic: saddening without being treacly, immersive without ever having to compromise – setting the tone and nailing down the motifs explored throughout the rest of the record.
But the LP’s showstopper appears one before the end. Perhaps the track on the record with the most crossover potential, “Game Show” immediately picks up the pace with a cyclical, bouncing xylophone line, fitted out with sinister-sounding synth sweeps not far out of the foreground, subtly building up the wall of twinkling sound behind Welsh until “And if it’s so hard to be alone/Then I guess you don’t want to” bears down like a disappointed ton of bricks.
The LP, rightfully, ends on a somber note. “Call on Me,” though, is an ode to a friend, not a lover. In the final verse, Welsh sings, “Like a long ending/In a film I have seen/We will ride up that hill, put a tear in their eyes/I remember how it ends, we survive/And the audience sighs.” And I don’t think there’s a better way to sum up all of Are You Alone? Majical Cloudz love conclusion, but acknowledge something pivotal, too. For all of their talk about the end, their lives go on, and despite all of their charming melodrama, they live to see another day. Smartly, though, they anticipate the reaction of the audience: We sigh. We’ll be glad to see them back.