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Slow Burn: Majical Cloudz Impersonator

On April 22, 2016

Emotional hang-ups are just like muscular knots and cords. They are caused by trauma or prolonged tension. They pull on other parts of your body (or mind), causing inflexibility and pain. Also, they worsen when ignored, yet require intense focus and a tolerance for discomfort to alleviate. The only difference is that, instead of tangled, bunched up muscle fibers, emotional knots are troubling thoughts, tragic memories, nasty grudges, and any other sort of recurring bad feeling than can inhibit the connections between your thoughts and feelings. They are what keep us up at night and pull at our feelings at the most inopportune moments to inhibit things like personal connections, clarity of thought, and, most of all, our self-worth.

Through their too-brief tenure as a band, Majical Cloudz made a kind of pop music that respects your emotions as if they were muscles, and they are fully aware that everyone has at least one sore spot somewhere. Matthew Otto’s ethereal production consists of repetitive yet ever evolving synthesizer loops, and functions like a deep breathing exercise during a deep stretch. Devon Welsh’s towering voice and piercingly personal lyrics are the fingers digging into a knot or cord to cause the friction necessary to break it up. Together, on their debut record Impersonator, they create a deep and therapeutic massage for your self-esteem.

When Impersonator first released, I approached it just like any other pop albums that came out that year. Basically, I approached it like a free trial of a Zumba class, whereas Impersonator is more like a foam roller; a tool of devastating function with an unassuming form. Trouble is, in 2013, I was too busy dancing along with the neon parachute pants and swinging butt-tassels of albums like CHVRCHES’ The Bones of What You Believe to properly appreciate the power of something so simple and elegant. My guess is that I listened to “Childhood’s End” once, thought it was nice, and then went back to blasting “Recover” for the umpteenth time. Then, last year, I saw the video for “Downtown,” and locking eyes with Devon with unwavering focus for four minutes was like the time my first time my friend showed me how to properly use a foam roller. For the rest of that year, I slowly digested Are You Alone? Then, recently, I decided to dig into Impersonator with an open mind, or better yet, I let Impersonator dig into me.

The first two tracks on Impersonator function as the deep stretch and warm-up necessary for a good massage. The title track opens with an initially jarring, but quickly soothing pitch-shifted vocal sample that eventually gets washed in a beautiful swirling loop. Then, Devon Welsh sings a soaring wordless melody before delivering his opening line; “See how I’m faking my part of it? I’m a liar, I say I make music.” That statement is not truthful. Instead, it is a manifestation of a deep-seated insecurity in his mind caused by the discontinuity between where he wants to be, and where his hyper-critical view of himself sees him. In confronting this, he has used his inner tension to find the site that is causing him serious pain. He feels like an impersonator. On the second track, “This is Magic,” Welsh’s words have loosened up like the moment after you touch your toes, and find that after each deep breath, you can sink deeper and deeper into the stretch. “If this song is the last thing I do, I feel so good that I sing it.” When you welcome the discomfort, you feel more compelled to find your limits, and that good feeling makes the discomfort almost pleasurable, while allowing a little more flexibility to pull at the muscle until it can’t go any further. This is either because the muscle is at its elastic limit, or it’s caught on a knot. It’s hard to describe exactly what a knot feels like, except that it feels like a knot, and once you find one, and feel for yourself, you will know.

Once properly warmed up, the knots can be broken. “Childhood’s End” is the track that finds, and breaks that first big and troublesome knot. While Welsh piles on the tragic imagery, Otto’s deep-breathing instrumentation slowly applies and removes pressure, tenderizing the knot until it is ready to collapse. “Can you see me caving in?” Then comes the crushing swoon of a refrain. “It went down, went down, went down… on me, me, me.” When a knot breaks, whatever it was holding onto loosens, and you can feel what it had been pulling on. Most of the time, the biggest knot is pulling on a network of smaller ones, and the rest of the album is dedicated to working those subsidiary knots. “I Do Sing For You, wrestles with the lifelong conflict between our mind and body. “Mister” speaks to self-love as if it is an exercise, or something fleeting that needs to be seized when the moment’s right. “Turns, Turns, Turns,” “Silver Rings,” and “Illusion” deal with compounding anxieties regarding life, death, and aging that get worse over time, especially when neglected.  

The last line on the last song of the album, “Notebook,” reads “Love will conquer these feelings.” Love isn’t an instantaneous phase-shift into a higher state of being. It takes time and effort, a lot more than the time it takes to listen to a love song or an album full of love songs, just as maintaining muscular flexibility requires time and focus every day. Love also requires that effort to be reciprocated, and hearts wide open to accept the other person. In their sophomore, and now final, full-length album Are You Alone?, they detail the pain and beauty of offering your heart to someone you feel is worth receiving it. However, before you can love someone with your full self, and have them return that love, you have to learn to love yourself.  Hence, the devastating Impersonator leading into the blissful Are You Alone?

I’m excited for what Matthew and Devon do next, but I’d be lying if that thinking about the end of this project hasn’t caused a sore-spot in my mind recently, especially since I only just discovered their music. Thinking about it more, and what I’ve had to say about Impersonator, I’ve realized that, after two accomplished albums, continuing the Majical Cloudz project would have been the easy, comfortable thing to do. For a band that reveled in the discomfort of emotional angst, taking the comfortable route may have come off as disingenuous. Comfort is often the impersonator of relief, and I don’t think there are any other pop-records out there that offer the kind of painful, therapeutic relief that Majical Cloudz do, especially here on this record. Impersonator leaves me feeling drained, sore, loose and revived after every time I listen to it, especially when “I feel in the mood to love myself” and I’m in need of a little tough love.


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