“You make a record with a box of 10 or 12 crayons, and then you get the one with 80 crayons and you think you’ve moved ahead, but you’re still just making a record with paper and crayons. I want the broken crayons. I wanna melt ‘em together. I wanna use a quarter and scratch at the markings to change them,” says Alexis Marshall, of his solo debut record ‘House of Lull. House of When’. “That’s much more interesting than working with the standard tools.”
That’s a solid summary of his first solo effort, a record that takes the established norms of modern recorded music and gleefully tears them to shreds. Marshall – best known as the front man of indescribably unique noise-rockers Daughters – had no songs written when entering the studio, and used few typical instruments once he got there. The drum kit – one of the most prominent sounds on the record – was cobbled together using broken drums and scrap metal for the cymbals.
While many of the songs are built around drum or piano lines, others are built around non-musical sounds, such as the clanking of chains, coins spinning on sheet metal, or a box of padlocks being aggressively rattled. Indeed, the sounds of metal scraping, banging, and grinding against metal are utilised far more than any traditional instrument on this record. The song structure is also unconventional, with most tracks built around a vocal stream of consciousness.
This DIY, almost primitive, approach to making music results in a hellscape of near indecipherable noises and sounds. On first listen, it’s almost impenetrable; a jarring, confusing and disorienting listen. However, repeat listens help to slowly peel back the layers and reveal some of the jagged, unconventional charms underneath.
At times, ‘House of Lull. House of When’ is a record that would sound more at home in an art gallery than being performed live. It feels like a live recording of performance art, of an artist pushing himself to his limits to create music in the least conventional way possible. However, we must say, we’d love to see how on earth Marshall would pull this off in a live environment. An electric live performer, if anyone can pull off a song that requires padlocks to be shaken in a box onstage, it’s him.
Chances are, many of the people who’ll check this out will be Daughters fans, and they will certainly get something from this album. While it’s a more challenging listen than anything the Rhode Island outfit have ever put their name to, Marshall’s inimitable vocal and lyrical style is undeniable. ‘It Just Doesn’t Feel Good Anymore’ is classic Marshall, as he spits out “Don’t touch anything, don’t touch anyone, don’t look at anyone” in his trademark snarl. ‘Open Mouth’ and ‘Hounds in the Abyss’ will also be palatable to Daughters fans, though these songs take the surrealism of their music and turn it up several notches.
At other points on the record, Marshall eschews sung vocals altogether in favour of a spoken-word style, as on ‘Youth as Religion’ and ‘No Truth in the Body’. He’s a vocalist who has perfected the art of unsettling the listener, and he does so on these tracks without even having to sing.
Needless to say, this is a record that demands every ounce of your attention. If you’re planning to listen to this album while doing something else, forget about it.
‘House of Lull. House of When’ is an album that’s difficult to love, but mind-blowingly original at the same time. We promise you, you’ve never heard anything quite like this before. If you’re a fan of sleazy, avant-garde art that throws the rule book in the bin and sets it on fire, you’re in the right place. Is it a record you’ll put on every day? Probably not. It is, however, a record you’re unlikely to ever forget.