Alexis Marshall – House of Lull, House of When

Posted: 18 July 2021 in Albums
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Sargent House – 23rd July 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Alexis Marshall is an interesting figure, and no mistake. As front man and lyricist of Rhode Island makers of noise, Daughters, he’s emerged as an artist with a rare poeticism matched only by his fierce intensity as a performer. Anyone who caught them during their comeback album, You Won’t Get What You Want – which saw them reconvene after an eight-year hiatus and harness the sheer mania of their previous phased into something with a rather broader appeal without remotely selling out – would likely have been blown away by his manic energy, not to mention self-abuse with a microphone. One got the impression that this wasn’t just performance or for show but a man living every moment with visceral power.

In interviews, he’s said he considers himself a performer first and foremost, although 2017 saw the publication of his first collection of poetry, A Sea Above the Pains of Our Youth, and it’s clear he’s got artistic range and is more than just some lunatic who shouts.

On the release of his book, Marshall was interviewed by Lucas Anderson of No Echo, and said, ‘There are so many guilty pleasures, and mine is combing through bad Instagram poetry. There are so many terrible, terrible, terrible poets on Instagram with like 15,000 followers, just writing fucking garbage. Just absolute souless things you would find on like a doily in a tea room, or a fortune cookie, its just bullshit self-help stuff under the guise of poetry. They use things like hashtags #poetsofinstagram and all this shit.’ This is something I can completely relate to as a writer. This is the reason I don’t even dabble with poetry competitions and the reason I more or less quit as a spoken word performer. It’s not even the lack of reception to anything different: it’s the turgid shit you’d have to sift through that would receive rapturous applause while thinking ‘seriously? But that was crap?’ Yes, art is subjective, but sometimes a turd is just a turd. Thankfully, there is nothing turd about House of Lull, House of When.

August 2020 saw Marshall release ‘Nature in Three Movements’ via Bandcamp, and yes, it sounded a lot like recent Daughters, but that was as much on account of his sprechgesang style, a combination of spoken work, hollering, and manic yelping. Marshall has a rare capacity to convey anguish, and no mistake, and if this first foray into solo work was intense but brief, his first solo album sees him fully explore the space a long player affords, and it feels like a very different kind of beast overall – And came about via a very different process, with Marshall convening with Jon Syverson (Daughters) and former tourmate Evan Patterson (Jaye Jayle, Young Widows) in the studio with absolutely no plan whatsoever. The result is cacophonous, unpredictable, often dark, often percussion-dominated.

House of Lull, House of When is an album of spontaneity, born out of chaos, and out of collaboration – the kind of collaboration where nothing is preplanned or predetermined, and this gives the album a rare immediacy and a sense of unpredictability. Marshall has a distinctive vocal style and a predilection for noise, but embraces all inputs and sets no parameters.

There are some long songs with some sparse instrumentation here: the first, ‘Drink from the Oceans, Nothing Can Harm You’ is a spartan piano piece that’s over seven minutes in duration. With some creeping eeriness and a distant, clattering industrial beat, Marshall’s spoken word is slowly swallowed in the mists and he fades out as he hollers psychological torture into an increasingly murky sonic sea.

‘Hounds in the Abyss’ finds Marshall lunging, lurching, seemingly lost and disoriented as he lunges through a thumping beat and elongated screeding drone, while ‘It Just Doesn’t Feel Good Anymore’ is heavy grind and repetition reminiscent of Swans circa 1985-6, and this is perhaps the closest and most fitting comparison I can reach for here: many of the lyrics take the form of barked instructions, particularly on while ‘It Just Doesn’t Feel Good Anymore’, seems to be a dissection of corporate and covid life, the endless repetition and ordering for compliance that has dominated our lives for the last year and a half, nearly.

‘You are responsible / stay where you are / you are expected to meet your obligations / Don’t get up / don’t touch anything / don’t touch anyone’ he bellows repeatedly like a government press conference or other outlets. It’s painful punishing, and all the more for the avant-jazz horns shrieking shrilly throughout, and that thunderous, grating repetition dominates and defines ‘Religion as Leader’ too. One suspects that religion is a far deeper, more divisive topic in the States than here in the UK, but it’s a global reality that religion is war – and ultimately, we need neither.

The monotone delivery of the reflective ‘Youth as Religion’ is a magnificently measured piece of spoken word, pitched against sparse organ drone and minimal guitar pickings, and it’s a world away from the whirlwind of noise that is Daughters. This is the intrigue and appeal of House of Lull, House of When: the title is obscure, and so is its formation, and there are no overt structures which tie the pieces here to the conventions of ‘songs’ with verse / chorus repetitions. As such, it’s ‘music’ in the broader sense and won’t appeal to many, even fans – but that’s no denigration of its artistic merit. Creatively, in terms of both vision and execution, House of Lull, House of When is special, and doesn’t sound like any other album – and all the better for it.

AA

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