Terror is a key player in all of Alexis Marshall’s music. In the high-throated screams of his early aughts project As the Sun Sets and the gravelly death-and-resurrection of the Rhode Island outfit Daughters, Marshall’s work is melodic but never benign. For his debut solo album, House of Lull . House of When, the vocalist and songwriter takes a left turn with improvisatory drones and religious spoken-word. Balanced between spontaneity and self-flagellation, the record’s experimental, industrial sound places you deep in the heart of the abyss, exploring a cataclysmic kind of desolation.
House of Lull. House of When follows the same chaotic principles of Daughters’ catalog, shedding the band’s melodic structure for a foreboding atmosphere that suggests more dreadful horrors pulsing just below the surface. Marshall works like a mad scientist of grindcore, ornamenting the spoken-word recitations with clogged air vents, crunching paintbrushes, and rumbling padlocks. In “Drink From the Oceans . Nothing Can Harm You,” he bellows the words over a blown-out piano; it sounds as if he is swimming through grime, paddling furiously to keep himself from sinking.
In the lyrics, Marshall questions authoritative patterns, evoking images of confusion, paranoia, and rapture. On “It Just Doesn’t Feel Good Anymore,” he alludes to pandemic anxiety and isolation: “Don’t get up/Don’t go out/Don’t touch anything/Don’t touch anyone,” he howls against pounding percussion and screaming horns, his voice full of worry. In moments like these, it is easy to imagine Marshall, dressed in all black, delivering his lines at a particularly morbid poetry reading.
The peak of the album arrives halfway through with a pair of interconnected tracks. On “Youth as Religion .,” Marshall opens up slowly, as calm pianos and guitars keep pace with his quiet prophecies. “God finds you in such places/Tempest truly knows you,” he sings over thick, swelling drones. The atmosphere leads directly into the factory-hollowed anger of “Religion as Leader,” where Marshall, backed by the writhing vocals of Lingua Ignota’s Kristin Hayter, returns to his heightened rasp, following the thread of the previous song.
With its improvised arrangements—abrasive guitars, junkyard percussion, rotted piano keys—House of Lull. House of When sometimes feels like Aphex Twin leading a Sunday Service inside a locked trash incinerator. The sound is reckless yet attentive, and Marshall’s delivery arrives with operatic bravado. Though you’re not likely to find yourself humming any of these songs after the record ends, the sinister mood lingers. “The past is like an anchor,” Marshall repeats early in the album. Even so, he sounds refreshingly unmoored, in search of new visions to induce the same fear.
Buy: Rough Trade
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