Like the Montreal duo’s intense live show, Impersonator is like being stuck inside the head of a fascinatingly dark-edged soul.
During a Majical Cloudz show, Devon Welsh is under the spotlight, both literally and figuratively. Matthew Otto joins him on stage for the duo’s live shows as musical accompaniment but it’s Welsh’s cathartic delivery that is the focus. Physically aided by a shaved head, an intense set of eyes, a white t-shirt and a static stance, Welsh’s presence is uncomfortable. And then he sings in a enveloping croon that holds the air.
While lacking the visual impact of the live show, Impersonator, the second album from the Canadians is all about that push-and-pull of Welsh. Otto’s electronic productions roam and permeate the air, it’s stripped right back like a film soundtrack. Its gossamer minimalism is a perfect emphasis for Welsh, offering a comforting foundation to what can be agonisingly intimate truths. Sometimes the music has a lullaby feel, sometimes it provides hopeful melodies to counterpoint Welsh’s dark side of the soul. ” It’s not meant to energise and turn you out to the world,” Welsh said in a press release. “It’s meant to do the opposite; it’s more like a cocoon.”
Welsh (whose father is actor Kenneth, Twin Peaks’ Windom Earle and who features in the ‘Childhoods End’ video) establishes the apprehensive mood early on the title, and first track ‘Impersonator’ – “I’m a liar, I say I make music” before expressing desire to “feel like somebody’s darling”. ‘This Is Magic’ finds him grappling with imagined horrors – ” I feel like a kid / I see some monsters standing over my crib / and they fall in…” while Otto’s contemplative church organ offers solace. ‘Bigs Don’t Buzz’ addresses the mood head on: “the cheesiest songs end with a smile / this song won’t end with a smile, my love.”
Throughout Welsh howls helplessly and beautifully at the dark, his deep voice engulfing the empty space creating uncertainty and further questions. The combination of his voice and Otto’s more optimistic arrangements create a relatable line between your self and his self. His personal anxiety has maybe once has been your anxiety. He’s communicating small ideas but they hold big questions when he says “I don’t think about dying” or “hey mister, don’t you want to be right here?”
The album spends 40 minutes inside the introspective head of its author yet it offers comfort through its confessional sincerity and its serene warm arrangements. Impersonator might be a cocoon but there’s still room to breathe.