Sound Bites

Album review: Majical Cloudz bare just the right amount of emotions in Cloudz Nine

This story was first published in The Straits Times on June 20, 2013 

Keeping it personal yet universal is a Herculean task for any confessional artist.

Merely pouring out one's emotions isn't good enough - you need to nail the acute balance between too scant and too much for your message to ring true.

John Lennon's metier, in tracks as pared-down as Imagine, is in rallying people with a simple, memorable turn of phrase.

Another expert is Elliott Smith, who transmits sadness bravely unadorned.

Smith happens to be a hero of Devon Welsh, the Ontario, Canada, native who has teamed up with synth programer Matthew Otto to form the Montreal- based minimalist electronic duo Majical Cloudz.

Their second album, Impersonator, cuts through sonic embellishments to bare its tender, tenderised heart.

It's justly long-listed for the 2013 Polaris Music Prize, a premier award given to the year's best Canadian album based on artistic merit - you feel privileged to witness something, well, magical.

"See how I'm faking my side of it/I'm a liar, I sing, I make music," Welsh hits you with asinine sincerity right from the start on the title track.

His sonorous burr - inherited from his father, Kenneth Welsh, who played evil genius Windom Earle on David Lynch's cult TV series Twin Peaks - is right in your face.

It can be stentorian, but the words… they communicate self-deprecation and vulnerability.

You think of vocal peers such as INXS' Michael Hutchence and Depeche Mode's Dave Gahan, but somehow Welsh's baritone isn't as showy or theatrical.

It commands your attention, but never to make you feel unequal.

Welsh doesn't flinch from unease. "Someone died, gunshot right outside/ Your father, he is dead/I see him in my head," he sings in the album's masterpiece, Childhood's End.

Beats thunder and synths shimmer, giving room for his voice to enunciate each syllable with portent and desperation.

An apparitional shroud hangs too over Silver Rings, as he chants: "I don't think about dying alone."

Yet, precisely through repetition, he invokes the very thing he is denying: Death stalks his every living moment.

Darkness also shadows Turns Turns Turns. Eternally looped, it caves in on itself, forever at the cusp of revealing a secret.

"I did something free, I can't tell if it's wrong," he shares conspiratorially.

In Bugs Don't Buzz, a gothic ballad pounded out on a stately piano as a sea of squiggly white noise infests, he intones like Heathcliff to his beloved Catherine: "The cheesiest songs all end with a smile/This won't end with a smile, my love."

You do a double take then replay everything again.


Indie pop

ST 20130620 KCSOUND20TEXAS 3708482m

THE CONVERSATION

Texas

Pias/Love Da Music

***

Roping in feted musicians such as Richard Hawley and ex-Suede axeman Bernard Butler hasn't changed Texas a bit: The Conversation sounds like Sharleen Spiteri and her gang from Glasgow have been stuck in a time capsule for two decades.

The electric guitar riffs of If This Isn't Real show that nostalgia can be a powerful thing. Thankfully, Spiteri still sounds top-notch and you won't care if she's spouting cliches. Soon you realise Texas have just aged into what they've always meant to: a middle-brow band who want to rock gently and give you lots of cookie-cutter choruses while you swig beer.


Country pop

ST 20130620 KCSOUND20LEANN 3708465m

SPITFIRE

LeAnn Rimes

Rhino

***

LeAnn Rimes comes clean about her affair with married TV actor Eddie Cibrian on her latest release - and got egg on her face. Spitfire bombed with only 10,798 copies sold in its first week.

Still, you have to give her credit for not sugarcoating the facts. She confesses: "I don't know what I have done/Or if I like what I've begun" in Where I Stood, the slide guitar crying as she tosses and turns like a wronged Medusa.

In another bruising apology called What Have I Done, she addresses ex-hubby Dean Sheremet: "I shot an arrow at your heart that I can't take back/When I said you were my first love, but you are my last." Violins moan and guitars strum, barely masking her ambivalence about the whole mess.


Pop/Soul

ST 20130620 KCSOUND20JAMIE 3708469m

MOMENTUM

Jamie Cullum

Island/Universal

***1/2

At age 33, Englishman Jamie Cullum is eager to be more than Sinatra in sneakers. No longer content to croon retro jazz-pap, he wants to be the Everyman's superman.

Momentum, his sixth studio release, goes for the "more is more" approach. It mostly works, thanks to his ebullience as well as superb production nous from hip-hop producer Dan the Automator.

Cullum sojourns into James Blake-type electro-soul in Pure Imagination and dissects Cole Porter's Love For Sale like a lost member of Gorillaz - to varying degrees of success.

But then you groove along to zingers such as The Same Things and Anyway and feel bad for nitpicking in the first place.


Emo rock

ST 20130620 KCSOUND2030 3708483m

LOVE LUST FAITH + DREAMS

30 Seconds To Mars

Virgin

***

Going emo has paid off for actor Jared Leto, especially as the frontman of his Los Angeles rock trio 30 Seconds To Mars. So, who cares if Love Lust Faith + Dreams feels hokey at times? It boasts the ridiculous self-importance of an over-budgeted B-grade sci-fi flick, with producer Steve Lillywhite piling on the widescreen electronic slather but taking extra care not to overwhelm Leto's sexy-cad purring. The latter sounds particularly convinced of his invincibility on Do Or Die, as drums thump till the end of eternity.

Queen's Freddie Mercury might want to rise from the dead and gang up with Muse's Matt Bellamy to counter this kohl-eyed goth-messiah pretender.

kaichai@sph.com.sg