by NICK MCGOURTY
Majical Cloudz’ Impersonator, the newest release from the Grimes-friendly Montreal twosome, brings to mind Sigur Ros’s most recent release Valtari. Like Valtari, Impersonator is a beautifully crafted album that teases at a big moment that never seems to come. The close of each song suggests that the following track will bear the climactic fruit Impersonator consistently promises. Valtari left want for more build-ups, crescendos, and all around cosmic jaw-droppery, and the production’s shortcomings were clear in comparison to previous bodies of work. With Impersonator, the missing element that could take the album from good to masterful is much more ambiguous. Each run through Impersonator provides equal parts beauty and equal parts almost. “Wow that was great, but…,” and that “but” would trail off into the mist from where it came. Not to be misunderstood, Impersonator packs a lot of awesome. Devon Welsh’s voice is stunning from its first plunge into the pulsing synth soundscape that Matthe Otto could not have created anywhere besides a hot air balloon, perpetually rising above the clouds (oh, Majical Cloudz!). Welsh’s voice does its best to provide an anchor for Impersonator, which at times derails from orbit and floats out into deep space.
The opening track, taking its name from the album title, opens with looped strings and a distorted vocal sample in a humming plod until the sky abruptly opens and Welshes voice steps out of an interdimensional wormhole. Welsh’s dum-dum-dum arrival is one of Impersonator’s most striking moments. Welsh’s apparition is followed closely by his own personal brand of self-loathing soul baring. “See how I’m faking my side of it / I’m a liar, I say I make music,” Welsh begins as he exposes himself as a phony in a very real, raw, and self-aware way. On Impersonator, Welsh tells a story in reverse, Memento-style. First, Welsh coming out as a fraud, and then he heads back in time to show us how and why he got here.
Welsh’s declaration on “Impersonator” is followed by the hide-and-go-seek heartbeat that throbs behind some of Welsh’s most vivid lyrics, describing the inception of both his fears and his wants. “This is all that I want / I had dreams about you when I was so young / And you’re mine,” Welsh sings, after painting a picture of an early life in a house of “monsters” and “murderers.” “Childhood’s End” continues Welsh’s reflection on his dark youth. The pitter-patter beat and the cathartic delivery of “Weigh down, its weighing down, on me, yeah” makes “Childhood’s End” an album highlight.
Impersonator loses itself on “I Do Sing For You” and “Mister” before the gunshot opening of “Turns Turns Turns” rights the course. On “Turns” Welsh is lost, running from a self-inflicted wound trying to catch his breath. Matthe Otto’s production shines on “Turns,” and is the track on which Welsh and Otto seem most in sync. It’s a hard act to follow. “Silver Rings” sounds most fit for the Water Temple in Legend of Zelda, as it drips into “Illusion” where Welsh’s emphatic “yeah!“ teases at Majical Cloudz’s potential. “Illusion” brings Welsh full circle as he returns to his initial theme of deceit. “Bugs Don’t Buzz” marches melancholic as Welsh compares himself to a still insect nearing death, which is also the topic of the album closer “Notebook”. Welsh tells someone (himself?) that despite his imperfections he’ll die respected for his acknowledgement of his shortcomings and effort to overcome them. “Hey man, sooner or later you’ll be dead / I want you to know I’ve got respect / Both of us have seen the light,” Welsh sings. You’ve still got some work to do, and some demons to exercise, but I see that you’re trying, Welsh is saying.
And then its over. And you’re exhausted. Impersonator is heavy stuff as Welsh leaves few stones unturned in exposing his personal pains and failures. Impersonator tells a supremely honest story from the mouth of a self-proclaimed liar. It is an album that needs to be experienced in its entirety, but in the age of remixes, the blogosphere, and Adderall, who will have the time or patience to dig into Impersonator? Those who do will find parts of it beautiful and rewarding, if they can stomach the emotional drain. Welsh’s voice alone is worth experiencing, as he orchestrates his own crucifixion. [B]