Vocalists have always held an important and unique role in the musical world. They have an ability that all instrumentalists are denied in that they can convey a greater meaning through poetry. Vocalists also have the ability to make or break an audience member’s appreciation for an entire band based purely on the subjective feeling that he does not like the singer’s voice. In my personal experience, and when I have asked those around me about their hatred of a band due to their lack of appreciation for the lead vocalist, the reason seems to come back again and again. They feel that he/she is insincere. Pure talent becomes irrelevant, lyrics become irrelevant to a degree. If the listener, for whatever reason, does not get the impression that the singer believes in what they sing, the ability to listen to the band as a whole falls apart.
*At this timely juncture enter Majical Cloudz*
Majical Cloudz, the Montreal indie-pop duo of vocalist Devon Welsh and producer Matthew Otto, is a perfect example of sincerity giving immense power to music. I was fortunate to be one of the last people allowed into a sold-out POP Montreal show at La Sala Rosa. Having never heard anything by Majical Cloudz, I had no idea what to expect. The pair walked onstage to massive applause. Then came the backdrop of beautiful ambience provided by Otto to lift and carry the voice of Devon Welsh, which almost knocked me off my feet with his first words. Welsh barely moved, aside from the rhythmic vertical accenting of his arms. He kept his head partially bowed, shielding his eyes from the attentive audience. The gathering on the floor was completely silent, drawn into a complete trance by the passion outpouring from Welsh. There is no doubt that Welsh has raw talent, but what kept that audience fixated was their ability to feel everything that Welsh felt. They could feel it through his voice.
Between songs Welsh said very little. He simply thanked the audience, occasionally stumbling through a more elaborate phrase, and he even gave up on more complex communication when the words wouldn’t come out. But when the music started again, the need for interaction between songs fell away. I remember overhearing an audience member near me saying that his struggles in speech were so endearing because they were so honest and heartfelt. When the time came for him to sing what he was originally trying to say, his thoughts were not just understood but believed by an audience that empathized with every chord. His sincerity granted power to his voice, and gave his listeners an almost transcendental experience.
(Seriously, if you do nothing else, listen to all three songs in the video above.)
I maintain that this trend holds among all of my favourite (and least favourite) vocalists. I love the voices of Jim James, Jim Morrison, Bob Dylan, Jeff Tweedy, Warren Spicer, Jonsi Birgisson, etc. Because I get the deep sense that they mean what they sing. No one will argue that Bob Dylan is the most talented singer around, but he is considered one of the greatest because his character gives his beautiful words so much weight. In the case of Jonsi I can’t understand a word he’s saying but I feel his voice so vividly that my own stirring of emotion surprises me every time. And with all the singers that I really can’t stand the reason is inevitably that I just don’t buy what they’re selling.
To wrap things up I’ll just say that Majical Cloudz recently put out a gorgeous record called Impersonator (yes I see the irony here). The album is powerful, soothing and evocative, with wonderful lyrics and majestic ambience. Don’t miss this album, and don’t miss Majical Cloudz next time they’re in town.