There’s something gnomic and magical happening on True Love.
The music of Devon Welsh doesn’t seem to originate in his mind or his heart, even though one could easily use the words “thoughtful” or “heartfelt” to describe it. Rather, his songs emerge from his face. They are substantial things, crowned, muscular and naked.
For proof of this, look no further than the videos the musician has released to promote his newest album, True Love. Each one prominently features Welsh’s singing face, sometimes in candlelight, sometimes in nature, sometimes in a thicket of projected images. His is an alien visage, completely unadorned—all the better for a group of songs about emotional honesty and the timelapse of romantic being.
“Faces in the rain laughing as we cry/ I’ll wipe your tears away, we’ll let it slide,” Welsh sings. It’s a clichéd image that calls to mind melodramas like The Notebook and Garden State, but this doesn’t lessen its impact. Welsh emphasizes departure as that which makes relationships profound: the truest love never really lasts. “So when I go/ I’ll sneak through the window/ Leave them a note that says/ I had to go with the flow,” he predicts on slow-burning “Grace.” If his debut solo album reflected, as Nathan Stevens explained, “a true desire to understand and improve,” his latest recognizes that betterment is sometimes neither possible nor appealing.
Part of this may have to do with Welsh’s own retreat into Wisconsin wilderness and idiosyncratic individuality. “I really enjoy living in the country because you can make as much noise as you want and do whatever you want to do. … You can just run around and be yourself,” he explained in an interview with The Fader. Listeners will get the feeling that he’s in touch with the essence of things: ancient patterns, the craving to have someone care, the need to be alone. “It’s a game I play sometimes/ I won’t let you win,” he acknowledges. Or perhaps the line is “I won’t let you in”—the world is his, his world is self, impenetrable.
Yet while the thematics of True Love are on point, its tectonics leave much to be desired. Welsh’s voice is clarion as always, and it’s a pure joy to hear him extend and sustain notes for several measures (as in the final portion of “Alongside,” where he stretches the phrase “feel alongside you” to last for over 30 seconds). But, to highlight the regality of his vocal timbre, Welsh has mostly emptied these pieces of other substantial musical elements. There’s a gorgeous modulation of Phil Collins-like synth in “Somebody Loves You” and some cozy string arrangements featured in “Uniform,” but most of these songs lack memorable or distinctive mise-en-scène.
Album-closing “Dreamers” is a case in point. Welsh seems to be going for an epic and chaotic effect along the lines of Of Montreal’s “The Past is a Grotesque Animal” or LCD Soundsystem’s “Someone Great.” But even though the sweet, longing sentiment of the lyrics is apparent in Welsh’s voice (and dance moves), the music just floats across the aural surface with hardly an impression left behind. Moonface’s Organ Music Not Vibraphone Like I’d Hoped comes to mind as a work similarly uninterested in percussive resonance, but Spencer Krug’s fascination with la matérielle made his backdrops slap in ways that Welsh has trouble achieving on his own.
Don’t get it twisted: there’s something gnomic and magical happening on True Love. This LP lets Welsh be totally naïve and direct, with no special gimmicks or trendy threads. But, for his art to blossom in brilliance and reach wider audiences, Welsh will need to find collaborators he can trust or perhaps even love. There is loneliness along his chasmic brow. Finding the right kind of polyphonic partnership has never seemed more necessary.