Imagine a culmination of Alex Ebert, Donovan and Neil Young, and you might be close to Alex Neilson’s recent offering under the name Alex Rex. Otterburn, the follow up to Alex’s debut Vermillion, cements his solo work separate to Trembling Bells, with a strong record of beautiful folk songs.
Firstly, it is key to know the cataclysmic event that led up to the album recording. 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 the three siblings, Alastair’s passing was an enormous shock to the family, including Alex, but embedded within this album is the grief that comes with family bereavement. As we have seen through many creative industries, grief can manifest itself in a complex set of ways. Sometimes, an album transforms the grief, in the process of writing, sometimes it highlights it’s there. But one thing is certain, this new album of Alex’s would not be the same, had it not been for this trauma, as it’s heavy hearted, pained and aims to make light with idiosyncrasy. And this is where I see references of Donovan.
Always Already incorporates lyrics such as, “it came upon me like a virus, that eats away all self-respect” and Amy, May I includes the line, “you came on like a nervous reaction / My teeth get hard and my dick starts chattering…”. If it’s not obvious that this deft album is drowning in despair then you just need to inhale the lyrics for a moment or two. What’s interesting is that he has also got Belle & Sebastian’s Stevie Jackson on guitar, thrashing out some psycho-billy guitar that took me back to the days of Sons & Daughters. Another notable track includes Otterburn, which reunites Alex with a couple of his Trembling Bells band mates, Lavinia Blackwall and Mike Hastings, altering the tempo of this album. With the mantra, “everyday’s the same” there’s a touch of disgruntlement to this track also, despite the pace. Brother may have the sound of the troubadour about it but if we look beyond that at the lyrics, there is a clear hankering for his sibling, “I called you by your name, brother can you spare a thought, your memories, your salvation.”
Vividly morbid, Latest Regret, is a clear love letter to his brother and the fact he had to die at such a young age. Anthemic, with lyrics like “And I enter front stage left,” there is a voyeuristically intimate side to this track, in fact to the entire album. With the inclusion of talent such as Alasdair Roberts and Rory Haye on this album, there is much to admire with this album, including the production. But the lyrics are what hold it together, hideously humorous in places, and in others humorously hideous, but Alex yet again cements his wonderful talent, following on from Vermillion.
Otterburn is available now, via Tin Angel Records.