Feelings laid bare

Pop music promises wondrous trips downtown.

You remember Petula Clark's wide-eyed rhapsody in her 1964 classic Downtown. You smile too at the cheesy video of Billy Joel's working-class downtown boy trying to woo an Uptown Girl (Christie Brinkley) in 1983.

But nothing shocks my system as listening to the single Downtown by Montreal duo Majical Cloudz from their third album, Are You Alone?.

Frontman Devon Welsh doesn't so much croon the word "downtown" as practically spits it out.



    Majical Cloudz



His song flips cliche after romantic cliche and unearths a mother lode of insecurities. "And we're going downtown/Cause we feel like running around/Is it really this fun while you're on my mind?/Is it really this cool to be in your life?" he sings, staring into your eyes, your soul in the accompanying low-budget black-and-white video. The stentorian delivery belies a crumbling heart. "I'm crazy/Crazy for you," he invokes yet another of pop's usual zingers and possibly a line from Madonna's 1985 hit, Crazy For You.

Downtown, as it happens, is one of the few "upbeat" tracks. Even then, the song sounds stark compared with their biggest hit so far, Childhood's End, on the band's 2013 breakthrough record, Impersonator.

For the band, it seems that with success comes an even more austere approach. It is as if Welsh and partner-in-crime, keyboardist Matthew Otto want to strip things back to their core.

A church-like ascetic principle underpins the title track. A softly pitter-pattering (heart) beat shores up this utter loneliness. Inundated on "red wine and sleeping pills" and "cheap sex and sad films", he calls out for help: "Are you alone?"

In a typical bathetic twist, he asks: "What's the point of a sad, sad song?/Do you hear what I'm saying or not at all?"

That is perhaps the point of Majical Cloudz. Their ominous electro-pop dirges may hint at doom's day, but they glean for a glimmer of light, a human touch, however fleeting.

On Silver Car Crash, he imagines the macabre scenario of dying in a vehicular accident with a loved one, as an atomic cloud of sci-fi synths rises over the horizon It could be a default theme song to the J.G. Ballard novel, Crash (1973), as Welsh relives a "kiss inside a car that's crashing".

At the end of the day, he wants to feel and he wants you to feel too, however much it hurts.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 21, 2015, with the headline 'Feelings laid bare'. Subscribe