Canister of contained energy

She jumped, she screamed, she punched her fist in the air while drenched in neon, space-gun synths. Watching Claire Boucher (also known as Grimes) at last weekend's St Jerome's Laneway Festival in action was invigorating - and especially intriguing when contrasted with the bare-bones approach of her ex-boyfriend, Devon Welsh of Montreal duo Majical Cloudz.

As can be evinced in live clips on YouTube, the latter doesn't jump around, doesn't scream nor punch his fist in the air.

Instead, he's a paragon of starkness - crew cut, white tee, holding microphone upright, back ramrod straight. Even his band's album covers are no-frills blank canvases, except for the titles and band name.

That is not to say there's no energy to their sound - far from it.

Together with producer Matthew Otto, Welsh creates a canister of contained energy. His resonant burr delivers bug-eyed confessions of longing and loneliness, over disembodied synths that float and flit and end abruptly. The energy is channelled inward, as if he's trying not to break down. The results can be staggering and unnerving.

The Wait & See EP comprises five songs from the time the duo recorded their acclaimed third studio release, last year's acclaimed Are You Alone?, but "didn't fit on that album for one reason or another", Welsh said in a press release.


  • WAIT & SEE

    Majical Cloudz


    4/5 stars

These songs are gauzier and more slippery than the tracks on that album and more hopeful than 2013's breakthrough album, Impersonator.

"If I try to be brave/Will you try to be kind?" he sings on the title track, Wait & See, describing a scene where he would "wade into the open sea/find if it'll help you breathe". Synths loop back into themselves, as if sucked into a vortex.

It's a treatise on mortality, death and rebirth - weighty issues unleavened by honesty. His singing is less stentorian, as if glimpsing the possibility of redemption.

In Heaven, a dancey, bass-heavy track best characterised as "discorelic", Welsh intones like Depeche Mode's Dave Gahan, but less precious-sounding. "We will dance on our way to heaven," he sings, as drums stutter and splutter.

It's passive-aggressiveness, but the kind you don't judge, seeing that the pattern recurs in all humanity. His apostrophes are addressed as much to himself as to an unnamed person.

The undeniably gorgeous anti-ballad Pretty sums up the endless interrogation or crippling self-doubt. The torrent of questions - "Or am I choking you out? Am I choking?" - reinforces the ceaseless cycle.

It comes to a head in the last track, the ominously titled My Heart Soaks Up Every Drop Of Your Blood. "Violent dreams excite you/But they won't set you free," he sings, as the piano trudges on, key by key, as Lynchian synths hover around like mist in the morning after.

Come to think of it, the David Lynch allusion is appropriate, considering that Welsh's father, actor Kenneth Welsh, played a villain in the iconic 1990-1991 TV series, Twin Peaks.

And therein lies Majical Cloudz's surrealistic appeal - they invoke subterranean hopes and fears and let your imagination run wild.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 03, 2016, with the headline 'Canister of contained energy'. Print Edition | Subscribe