Credit: Susana Martins
Music Obscure Object by Tanner Stechnij

Alexis Marshall | House of Lull . House of When

August 17, 2021

Alexis Marshall’s latest is just as bleak and worrisome as his previous work, but a bit less inspired this time out.

Nearly three years after dropping the masterful, horrifying You Won’t Get What You Want as the lead singer of Daughters, Alexis Marshall is back with another paranoia-riddled, anxiety-inducing work. Marshall’s solo debut, House of Lull . House of When (sic) strips back much of the “rock” instrumentation and places its footing firmly in the realm of noise, composed of minimalist, foreboding keyboards, cacophonous, unhinged percussion, sawing drones, and poetic, spoken vocals from Marshall. The lead single, “Hounds in the Abyss,” offers a representative glimpse into an album that’s uniformity of production and style haunts and grates in equal, intentional measure. Starting with a strangely accented, simple percussion rhythm and an incessant, high-pitched drone, the track is further industrialized when Marshall’s haunted spoken refrain comes in. Posing the question “Are you the one?” over and over again, strangely emphasizing and elongating the “you,” Marshall searches for the person throwing rocks at his window, phoning his mother and hanging up, and rolling cigarettes on top of his father’s stone, among other strange happenings. Despite the noisy instrumentation that’s hardly instrumental, the accented percussion and what sounds like drummed-upon garbage can lids, the song finds a tribal-like groove. The next track, “It Just Doesn’t Feel Good Anymore,” a sarcastic, begrudged response to the individualistic mandates brought about by COVID, is also strangely groovy despite being even less structured. The cymbal crashes sound more like they’re being knocked over than being played, and the same goes for the track’s gong. A whinnying, soloing saxophone haunts the song, and in the last part of the track, neoclassical darkwave powerhouse Lingua Ignota, who knows her way around twisted industrial tunes, provides some blood-curdling background screams.

Lingua vocals can also be found on the two-part suite “Youth as Religion . / Religion as Leader,” which repurposes similar lyrics across a pair of styles: “Youth as Religion” is the plaintive, gently-spoken version rife with static, featuring an almost precious guitar solo and imbuing eerie discomfort, a sound that’s not revisited until album closer “Night Coming”; “Religion as Youth,” for its part, takes on the same manic, anti-instrumental approach that’s characteristic of much of the album. It’s elevated by Lingua’s abbreviated performance, which brings more vocal variety in a few repeated lines than Marshall’s unwavering speaking throughout the album. Elsewhere, an album highlight, “No Truth in the Body,” utilizes coins spinning, sliding, and rubbing as its main percussive element, which is joined by a few piano chords and directionless guitar. Marshall sounds his most plaintive, most abandoned here, as he speaks, questioningly: “Fire makes merry men lose sight and crumble / You see them crumble / Fire makes merry men hurt / You see them hurting.” It’s a fitting enough reflection of the album’s general tenor, and in many ways, House of Lull . House of When is an obvious follow-up to You Won’t Get What You Want: in a world even more in disarray than it was a few years ago, Marshall’s solo vision is just as bleak, worrisome, and grating, but also less melodic and inspired.

Published as part of Album Roundup — July 2021 | Part 2.