People often fit into one of two schools of thought in electronic music: they prefer the big, jittery, overstuffed sounds associated with EDM (though artists like Squarepusher and Kid606 have been doing it for years), or they enjoy the spare, meditative work that could more readily be classified as ambient music. The latter category often toes the line between intimate and glacially cold, which can be a hard sell for some listeners. However, Majical Cloudz taps into the beating heart of this bedroom, electro-pop and has done so for a few years now. With Are You Alone?, we get more of the same heart-wrenching pop that has become prescient with the rise of stars like Lorde, and the duo deliver on this style as well as any chart-topper.

The key to what makes Majical Cloudz tick has always been Devon Welsh. This is probably obvious; vocalists tend to be the focal point of any musical project they’re a part of. But Welsh serves the greater purpose of making the emotional subtext of each Majical Cloudz song into plain text. Without Welsh, these songs would be beautiful but impressionistic, mere ideas. With Welsh, we get the aching, longing, painfully beautiful “Silver Car Crash,” in which Welsh frames his barely-contained emotions in the direst terms possible. “I hope you won’t forget me/ I am so hopelessly for you,” he croons, resigned to whatever awful fate awaits him without his love.

To praise Welsh exclusively would be a great disservice to what Matthew Otto accomplishes behind his talented singer. Many moments of Are You Alone? work as extended conversations between the singer and the music around him, similar to Thom Yorke’s back and forth with the chaos of Kid A. This time, the music serves as a soothing agent, a subtle reminder that everything will be okay and there is beauty in the world. As Welsh sings about the changing nature of life and his relationship with a hint of bitterness on “Change,” Otto makes his synths swell and rise in contrast with Welsh’s despondence. Conversely, on “Downtown,” Otto creates an air of uncertainty while Welsh declares, “Nothing you say/ Will ever be wrong/ Because it just feels good being in your arms.” Wherever Welsh’s emotional turmoil takes him, the music seems ready-made to counter it at every turn.

This is where the subtlety of this kind of electronic music really shines, because Are You Alone? never immediately sounds like an album wrought with conflict. The strife within the music, both in Welsh’s text and in how his words interact with Otto’s textures, is something that unfolds with repeated listens. It’s a perfect demonstration of the sort of emotional heft this kind of music can carry without relying on jarring explosions of sound or overblown vocal performances. Are You Alone? is subtly heartbreaking, an intimate experience with a resounding impact.

There isn’t anything wrong with allowing the music to envelop the listener, but electronic artists sometimes make the mistake of assuming that sound alone is overwhelming enough for the listener. By tapping into real feelings in a more explicit way than expected, Majical Cloudz have struck something very special. This is real, heartbreaking stuff, even amidst the wash of electronic sounds.

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