Release Date 07/03/2019
Can music make you feel less alone? Can it foster intimacy from afar? In his stark songs, which are like sonic poems, the Canadian artist Devon Welsh has mined such questions with rigor, vulnerability, and grace. From 2010 to present, his body of work has pushed language to the fore in service of closing the space between artist and listener, prizing human connection above all.
With his duo Majical Cloudz, Welsh found a huge audience for that vision: he released two critically-acclaimed LPs with Matador Records, and went from DIY house-show tours to playing arenas with Lorde. Moreover, Welsh created life-affirming moments: on-stage, he looked people in the eye—blurring the line between music and performance art—and could bewilder listeners or make them cry. But after disbanding Majical Cloudz in 2016, Welsh retreated to take stock of his purpose as an artist. He shifted his relationship with music. His solo album, Dream Songs, arrived in 2018, rescaling the pulsing heart of his work with arresting orchestral arrangements.
In the wake of Dream Songs, Welsh has taken stock once again. Leaving his longtime home of Montreal, the Ontario-born artist moved to rural Wisconsin to recalibrate still. Recording in a basement studio and embracing a quieter, simpler life, he has worked on his emotional health through meditation and therapy. His newest music is in ways a product of those introspective focuses: about the ambiguous emotional spaces around love. “Love in every sense has complications, often feels impossible or unreachable, and so many things can get in its way,” says Welsh. “Music has been a great way for me to try to understand that as best as I can.”
The first of this next chapter is “Faces.” A staple in Welsh’s live set for some time, “Faces” strengthens the minimalism, poetry, and illumination of Welsh’s best work, complemented by additional synths and sound processing from Nick Schofield and Kyle Jukka. “I feel that there’s a bittersweetness to life,” Welsh says, describing this meditation on love and mortality. “There’s suffering and we know it has to end, but there’s so much tenderness in it nonetheless.” Set in the Wisconsin woods, the black-and-white video for “Faces” highlights the piercing emotionality and deep humanness that remains Welsh’s signature.
There was a novelty to Welsh’s recording process here, which was an overwhelmingly solitary one. Whereas Majical Cloudz and Dream Songs were distinct collaborations, Welsh worked on “Faces” and his other new music primarily alone. That self-contained principle extends to how Welsh is continuing to release music now: removed of the label system, towards an autonomous approach, stemming from his own comfort zone. “Making music is a personal thing for me,” Welsh says. “Ideally it is a reflection of something intimate.”
With his characteristic openness, Welsh admits that the fun-house echo chamber of being an artist online had become wearying in Majical Cloudz. He struggled with a loss of identity, and it left him with a deep skepticism towards the music industry. “I had a total nervous breakdown with respect to being a musician,” Welsh says. “The headspace of that world kind of burned me out.”
But he calls his move into self-releasing more natural and emboldening. “There’s no script for how to do things now,” Welsh says. “I’m just trying to express things that feel intimate and worthwhile, but leaving it a little bit with a question mark.” In an era of widespread burnout, it feels radical and hopeful to see an artist reckon with these realities and find a personal path forward—and in his songs, a disarmingly clear sense of self.