It is 2am on a Monday morning, I am sitting and relaxing in my bed with the windows open and my lights dimmed. I decide to listen to the Magical Cloudz album I’ve been meaning to get around to. I am pleasantly surprised.
‘Disappeared’ is a gorgeous, slow paced starter, in its best moments recalling sections from Grizzly Bear’s Yellow House and a couple of songs from the second side of The King of Limbs by Radiohead. Woodwinds and brass (or very good syntheses) create lush cushionz (or majical cloudz, if you will) for Devon Welsh’s poignant lyrics that seem to be about dealing with loss.
Then comes ‘Control’, with another nice set of lyrics – ‘Will you let me change, I want to but I think you want me the same’ presenting a nice melody and vocal hooks throughout. A bit more upbeat than the preceding ‘Disappeared’ but not lagging behind by any means in having a majesty of its own.
Unfortunately that’s about as long as my pleasant surprise lasted. From here onwards, the album is made up of mostly inoffensive, perfunctory synth backgrounds adorned with the occasional pretty vocal hook, but nothing of the sort that will stick in your head for a day, let alone a week. For most part the whole album ambles on at a meager pace, offering neither interesting synth textures nor exciting arrangements and some lyrics are evocative, but others are clichéd.
Some of the songs have a point where they feel like they could morph and change into something more dynamic but remain static and placid instead. This isn’t always necessarily a bad thing, but when it is the rule rather than the exception then it can become an issue in terms of keeping the listener engaged. The third and title track ‘Are You Alone?’ is a perfect example of this, upbeat with an okay melody and some mild hooks paired with some uninteresting but functional synths. Throughout the track it feels as though it is building up to something but that something never comes.
Similarly, ‘Heavy’ is almost instantly one of most engaging tracks, with a minimal beat, a circular synth pattern and possibly some different type of reverb on Welsh’s voice, but again fails to develop into anything more substantial. Perhaps it could’ve worked better as a much shorter instrumental link. Other songs in this vein include ‘Change’, ‘Easier Said Than Done’ and ‘Call On Me’. The worst of the lot is ‘Silver Car Crash’, which combines probably the most obnoxious synth sounds on the record with its most banal and weirdly morbid lyrics.
Highlights include ‘So Blue’, built on a piano riff and boasting the nicest vocal intonation on the album. ‘Downtown’ with a catchy synth pattern and a good atmosphere overall and also the first track to actually climax into something, with its romantic and sincere ‘I’m going crazy, crazy for you’ coda. Lastly, ‘Game Show’ which is built on a repeating pattern that sounds something like a vibraphone or some other pitch percussion and eventually builds into a wall of sound, with chimes, a synthesised choir and even what sounds like an overdriven guitar low in the mix.
I however have mixed feelings about ‘If You’re Lonely’, perhaps largely due to it sounding like a Beach House outtake from Teen Dream with the lyrics to boot. Welsh even seems to copy Victoria Legrand’s vocal intonations on this one.
Perhaps an EP of the tracks Disappeared, Control, So Blue, Downtown and Game Show would have fetched a higher rating. It would still have a diversity issue but then that would be somewhat solved by the shorter length, wouldn’t it? As it is, Are You Alone? is saved only by being fully adequate in its aims. It sounds like the type of music you’d play after a party rather than at the party itself – which seems to be exactly Devon Welsh’s motive in the bulk of the tracks. That being the case though, I only wish he’d spent more time listening to Avalon by Roxy Music.