Alex Rex perform songs of love, loss and loathing. New album OTTERBURN is out now on Tin Angel Records.
It’s impossible to describe Alex Neilson’s sophomore solo album Otterburn without first addressing the cataclysmic event that led up to it. On the 29th of April 2017, Alex’s brother Alastair died peacefully and unexpectedly in his sleep on his canal boat in Leeds. The youngest of three boys, Alastair embodied all his family’s best qualities and was a charming and spontaneous friend to anyone lucky enough to cross his path.
The trope that heartbreak yields an artist’s best work is a tired one, but what of bereavement? Grief is a complex monster. For those skilled at building songs, it can provide a new set of tools and floor plans. Would this album have been the same without the trauma Alex experienced? Undoubtedly not. Otterburn heaves with despair, but brings with it too an idiosyncratic sense of the comic. Gallows humour seems too mild a term when Neilson croons: “The clouds disperse / Without priority or care / He’s gone they seem to say / But knock once if you’re still there”.
But there are other kinds of sorrow here too.
The Frankenstein’d child of Roots-era Everly Brothers and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, ‘Amy, May I?’ is a genre-bending paean to masochistic love. It foregrounds some supremely wigged-out guitar from Stevie Jackson (Belle & Sebastian), while Neilson eschews his signature breathy, meandering vocal style for something altogether more strapping, barking the line: “You came on like a nervous reaction / My teeth get hard and my dick starts chattering…”. Other highlights include the title track (a bucolic elegy to Alastair’s canal boat), ‘The Cruel Rule’ (Diazepam Dylan) ‘Master’ (a dirge-like waltz that’s the lyrical equivalent of a game of musical chairs on the Titanic), and the heartrending album closer ‘Smoke and Memory’.
Plus – Cath & Phil Tyler
“Folk balladry has rarely been performed with such commitment and intensity” – Record Collector