When I saw Majical Cloudz at SXSW it was in a room only slightly bigger than my basement studio apartment, and just as poorly lit. In a tightly packed space with probably 200 people, Devon Welsh stood on the edge of the stage in a tense pose and bellowed confessional lyrics, slowly locking eyes with every single person in the room through the set. "If this song is the last thing I do / I feel so good that I sang it" was the point in his performance of 'This is Magic' where our eyes met briefly, and from the immediate sinking feeling it gave me, it did actually feel like magic. Welsh's performances have been described as intimidating, heartbreaking, and intense, so in a room where the only sounds are his voice and a quiet synthesizer and beat, his dominating presence is intensified. With each syllable his body heaves and bends to emphasise the importance of every single word. His debut album with instrumentalist Matthew Otto, Impersonator, attempts to replicate a similar sinking feeling through its affective, confessional lyrics and sparse instrumentation.

If it wasn't clear before, Majical Cloudz are trying to focus on very specific aspects of performance and music on Impersonator. From the straightforward album artwork to the minimal compositions that flank Welsh, everything seems to be an exercise in utilitarianism. In fact, you'd probably have a difficult time finding a photo of Welsh performing in anything other than a plain white t-shirt tucked into a pair of black jeans. Listening to an album like Impersonator can often feel like mental workout, when the focus is more on the lyrical than the musical. But a lot of the subtle, background elements here are almost more endearing than the words. On the album's title track and opener, a corrupted voice loops endlessly, like a choir of ghosts that match the sentiment of Welsh singing "This song is proof that I'm trying."

There are very few surprises to be had on Impersonator, though. If you've heard either of the two first singles from the album, 'Childhood's End' or 'Bugs Don't Buzz', you've already experienced the entire sonic palette of Majical Cloudz. The last minute of 'Bugs Don't Buzz' has a startling, warped white-noise and feedback outro that adds a layer of instrumental anxiety to a record that concerns itself with mostly lyrical anxiety. 'Turns Turns Turns', a song from Majical Cloudz's EP released last year is among the few songs driven by a rhythm here, where a slow-beating drum bounces along the repeating phrase "I know". 'Mister' also has a frantic, rolling drum pattern that seems like less of a beat and more like an erratic machine battling with Welsh.

'Silver Rings' is the album's centerpiece: both it's longest track and most emotionally affecting. Where Welsh's voice is most often confined to a deep, somber tone, on 'Silver Rings' he lets go somewhat, belting out "I don't think about dying alone" over echoing plucked strings. A lot of the lyrics on Impersonator deal with equally heavy themes: family, death, anxiety, decaying relationships. It's another reason Impersonator can be a real drain if you're not in the right mood. Unless you're willing to validate your bad thoughts, Impersonator can feel awfully pitiful. It sucks the momentum right out of a happy day.

This is something to be admired, though. It's rare a musician can reach audiences on such a personal level just by sheer presence and lyrics alone, especially without an album released yet. Welsh can put on a captivating performance, and even if that same intensity doesn't carry through on the recorded material, it's still something to take note of. Even if Impersonator isn't the most uplifting music to listen to, it's carefully restrained and delicately expansive at the right moments. Welsh and Otto have a certain chemistry, and future material supplemented with some bigger instrumentation could double the emotional destruction. Maybe he could pepper in some happy songs for a sunny day, too.