When Majical Cloudz were handpicked by Lorde to open a month of dates on her 2014 North American arena tour, the Montreal duo, with its handheld mic and a keyboard perched on an ironing board, was almost comically dwarfed by the venues and the headliner’s stage sets. But in a way, it was the perfect setting for singer Devon Welsh and instrumentalist Matthew Otto’s hauntingly sparse synth pop (a fitting description they’re guaranteed to loathe). Sophomore album Are You Alone? is built on church-organ-like keys and almost inaudible percussion that lay bare Welsh’s uncomfortably vulnerable lyrics, which are like conversations you overheard and wish you hadn’t (“Red wine and sleeping pills/You’re gonna die so you say, but you’re here still,” from the title track). It’s evocative and vivid, recalling early Red House Painters, or even The Blue Nile.
Listen to Majical Cloudz and other artists from this week's issue of Billboard.