Have you ever sat in a room with a snake? If you did, you’d have an idea of what the snake might do: snakes hiss, they can bite, some rattle, some constrict. Maybe the snake lays completely still for the entire duration of your stay, safe in the knowledge of its advantage.
Listening to Alexis Marshall’s debut record as a solo artist House of Lull. House of When, is a bit like this. In his time as the singer & lyricist of As The Sun Sets and Daughters he’s hissed, bitten & rattled his way through a sharp catalogue of noise rock standards, and stared down countless audiences, to the extent that now his mere presence in the room creates tension.
Marshall plays this to his advantage, and much of the record is characterised by feint and counter over jab and uppercut. Pre-release songs ‘Hounds In The Abyss’ and ‘Open Mouth’, with their driving drum patterns and lashings of feedback, offer a route into the work for people coming in fresh from any of Daughters’ recent output, but elsewhere the palette the album utilises is largely abstract: drone, noise, spoken word, music concréte; they each play as large a role in defining the tone as any of Marshall’s prior output. Last year Marshall co-authored a book of poetry, and the album connects the dots between his stage presence and written ambitions.
That abstraction, and freedom, extends to the sounds in play. We are told that ‘It Just Doesn’t Feel Good Anymore’ features a drawer of padlocks, and that ‘No Truth in the Body’ includes coins spinning on a metal sheet, and when these novel industrialised samples appear the album recalls the melodic sections of Jesse Draxler’s 2020 visual noise album Reigning Cement. The album was recorded with the increasingly in-demand Seth Manchester, the producer’s previous experience of capturing novel set-ups with The Body, HIDE, Limbs Bin, and Lingua Ignota (who features) allowing him to comfortably accommodate Marshall’s desire for unconventional instrumentation.
Despite these percussive happy accidents and bursts of noise, there’s a baroque quality to the album, most notably on closer ‘Night Coming’. Here Marshall speaks in low register, faintly audible over a sparse piano line, a whirring noise pattern and a high pitched hum. It sounds like a ballroom dance from the end of the world, and is perhaps the most successful marriage of the record’s abstract toolkit. On ’Night Coming’, Marshall reminds us that he barely needs to move a muscle to make you sit straight in your seat, that the implication of chaos can be wielded as meaningfully as any rattling padlock. The snake in the room.
House of Lull. House of When is out via Sargent House on 23 July and can be ordered here.
Words: Luke Jackson