Alexis Marshall

House of Lull House of When

Daughters' Alexis Marshall delivers a solo album of strange sounds and brave lyrics, finds Nick Roseblade

On the surface there isn’t much different between House of Lull House of When and Alexis Marshall’s day job with Daughters. The music is uncomfortable. Abrasive. Confrontational, but totally engaging. With Daughters, Marshall and co. construct dense walls of noise and confusion. The songs are constructed out of obsidian surfaces and little to no lighting. You can’t really work out what is in front of you apart from vague outlines. On House of Lull House of When, the compositions are sparse and strangely light. You can see across the room. The writhing shapes on the floor are in focus. This clarity is what gives the album its power and purpose. However House of Lull House of When wasn’t constructed like this. It happened by chance.

Before recording could begin, Marshall needed to assemble his band. Long-time collaborator Jon Syversen and touring mate Evan Peterson were brought into the fold along with producer/engineer Seth Manchester. Once this was in place, Marshall went to Machines with Magnets studio in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. He arrived with no solid ideas, so each track was constructed there and then. The musicians would jam and improvise. When they did something they liked – a piano motif, chord sequence, drum pattern, or the sound of scraping metal – that became the jumping off pad. The songs sound like this.

Throughout House of Lull House of When there are unconventional sounds. ‘No Truth in the Body’ features a drawer of padlocks being rattled. The results aren’t as destructive as you’d originally think. Take ‘Youth as Religion’, for example. Under Marshall’s sombre spoken word delivery there is a static fuzz, throbbing bassline, reverb drenched guitar and something that sounds like a distressed zither. It creates such an uncomfortable sensation that you aren’t really paying attention to what Marshall is saying, or what the rest of the band are playing. Then something draws your attention, like the line “Young men sing, your fever swings” or the glorious guitar work, and your attention has been pulled momentary, before going back to that captivating, yet caustic, melody. The next track, ‘Religion as Leader’ recycles some of the same lyrics. Here “Your fever swings” takes on a totally different meaning. On ‘Youth as Religion’ it was uttered with a kind of benediction, but on ‘Religion as Leader’ its almost a bile drenched sneer. These two tracks are the centrepiece of the album. Here, the themes Marshall has been playing with come to the fore. The ideas of growing old on your own terms whilst realising how naïve you were in your youth come to a head.

At times House of Lull House of When feels more a document of the recording process than an album. That isn’t to say that it doesn’t work or sounds malformed. It works incredibly well. The songs are taut affairs that bristle with inventive ideas and devastating motifs. They’re also remarkably playable. With each new listen you pick out something new. This continually gives the songs new meanings. While listening to ‘Open Mouth’ the first time I concentrated on the contorted drumming. It was all I could focus on. Its disjointed rhythms were all consuming. Then, after repeat listens, the meandering guitar gently pulled me in. Under the violent percussion was this delicate guitar sound. Part feedback, part melody, it added something touching to layers of punishing noise. Now when I hear it, I’m stuck by the fine balance between beauty and pain.

This balance is what Marshall delivers with his vocal too. Lyrically Marshall is looking back at his life, marvelling that he made it to his forties, lamenting his younger self for his foolhardy ideals whilst looking to the future. Whatever it might hold. This is a brave album that demands, and gets, your complete attention by grabbing you by your collar and doesn’t let go for forty-two minutes. It’s an album that fans of Daughters will delight in, but it’s also an album that you need no previous knowledge to enjoy. Don’t let the title put you off. There are no lulls, or whens, just glorious sounds to explore.

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