Alex Rex is the nom de guerre of Alex Neilson – drummer to some of the most innovative musicians on the international underground, including Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Shirley Collins, Jandek and Current 93. Alex has synthesised the agonised self-invention and charismatic death-drive of these artists into his solo vehicle – abandoning the folk-rock pomp of his previous band Trembling Bells for something darker and wilder.
His third solo album, Andromeda (out 7th February on Tin Angel Records) is a game of emotional snakes and ladders. It’s the product of two years spent in therapy, the gym and on Tinder. It opens with the voice of folk legend Shirley Collins in “Song of Self Doubt” – a sparse assemblage of spoken words layered on bright chimes and birdsong. And from there we wander down corridors of cruelty, recklessness and recrimination.
“I Am Happy” is a gut-punch to the brain. Think classic-era Nick Cave but without the gothic posturing. “Haunted House” is a ghost-rock ballad about an emotional poltergeist looking for love. “Rottweilers” is a song about the hell hounds of the mind – the phantoms of self-deception and self-destruction that impress themselves on the brain like a depressed Mount Rushmore. “Coward’s Song” sets some lines from Richard III to a skeletal country waltz and was recently recorded by Bonnie “Prince” Billy. “I’m Not Hurting No More” sounds like poetry etched out by a pneumatic drill in an electrical storm, while album closer “Pass The Mask” is about the anxiety of childbearing by someone who has never borne a child – passing the relay baton of disappointment from generation to generation.
Absence becomes a new form of presence in this collection of 12 songs that dip and soar, melodies that haunt and soothe. Guest appearances from Shirley Collins and Steve Jackson enhance an album rich in contributions from musical collaborators including Rory Haye, Audrey Bizouerne (Rev Magnetic / Bill Wells) and Georgia Seddon (Mike Heron / The Incredible String Band).
Andromeda covers a vast terrain, musically, lyrically, emotionally. With each solo release Neilson reveals a little more of himself. His voice has never sounded so brutally honest, so desperate, defiant and courageous.