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Devon Welsh - Dream Songs Music Album Reviews

The Majical Cloudz alum trades electronic pop for guitar, piano, and strings on an unflinchingly candid debut solo album that sets his singular voice free to preen, wander, and soar.

For a songwriter who’s always been fixated on ephemerality and change, Devon Welsh didn’t seem especially bothered by the demise of his own band. In a nonchalant, almost cheerful statement announcing the breakup of his Montreal electronic duo Majical Cloudz in 2016, the singer voiced no regrets or anxieties, only appreciation and the promise of more music to come. “The band was an opportunity for us to grow into the kinds of people and the kinds of artists we wanted to become,” he wrote. “We both feel it to be the completion of something very positive.”

Perhaps he saw that this particular breakup wasn’t really an ending. Like Morrissey or David Byrne, Welsh has one of those voices that ensure a certain consistency across projects; no matter how different the music is, anything he sings is likely to sound a good deal like Majical Cloudz. And so it is with his proper solo debut, Dream Songs, which he recorded with producer Austin Tufts of Braids, using a palette of mostly traditional instruments like guitars, piano, and strings. On paper that may sound like a rebuke to Majical Cloudz’s impressionist electronic pop, but in practice the effect is the same: a backdrop of lovely, spacious music that grants Welsh’s pliable voice full freedom to preen, wander, and soar.

An air of formality hangs over the whole record, which stages its songs like the lush sets of Golden Age Hollywood films. On “Dreams Have Pushed You Around,” an orchestral track that twinkles under the glow of moonlight, Welsh performs as if clad in a top hat and tails. He’s singing clearer and louder than ever, though the extra attention he calls to his voice doesn’t prevent him from exploring its boundaries. On “Vision,” the vibrations of his tenor summon a cascade of rippling synths. That moment is paralleled in “Chances,” when he hits an outright ugly note—a flat, phlegmy neigh that he just lets ride. Strings swell around it in celebration, as if cheering his bravery.

Welsh’s worldview doesn’t allow room for failure. Dream Songs is a safe space where beautiful outcomes and mere effort are rewarded in equal measure, with reassuring music that underscores lyrics about personal growth and self-actualization. “I’ll build the wings on both our shoulders, and I won’t even mention all of the reasons why I fear to fly,” he vows on “Over the Sky.” He presents his most memorable proposal for becoming a better person in the album’s opening line: “When you see an insect, don’t try to squash it.”

Dream Songs is bound to be more polarizing than anything Majical Cloudz recorded because it leaves less room for interpretation. On any given listen, there are moments when I’m awed by its radiance and others when I’m irritated by the sheer obviousness of it all, though the exact trigger points vary from replay to replay. What’s missing is the sense of mystery and otherness that Majical Cloudz so delicately conjured. Welsh’s former bandmate Matthew Otto created music for the frontman to play against, but the swooning accompaniments on his solo debut put a gilded frame around his already prominent voice. At times, it can feel like too much: Welsh is too front and center, too exposed. But it’s all in the spirit of candor. From the get-go, Dream Songs banks on fearless sincerity, and it never once second guesses that choice.

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