Some records you listen to because you are drawn to them like a moth to a flame. Andromeda by Alex Rex is just such a record. It is a descent into the dark recesses of a man who has seen too much and almost seems to be begging to come out on the other side. Alex Neilson, under the guise of Alex Rex, has seen and experienced so much that the album literally seems to bleed, he calls it, “… an game of emotional snakes and ladders … two years spent in therapy, the gym, and on Tinder.”
Rather than Neilson, the album opens with eighty-four year-old folk-legend Shirley Collins reciting ‘Song of Self Doubt’ – “I waited for you all day amongst the ruins in the abandoned castle of my body,” – over a bed of glass chimes and odd recordings of birdsongs. The funereal tone of A Handful of Hair seems to reference the death of his younger brother who was the subject of the last Alex Rex album, Otterburn. The darkness extends lyrically, “I kept and ate the handful of hair you gave me; alchemy for the painfully alone.”
Part funeral march, part half shouted soliloquy, ‘Funeral Music for Alex Rex’, outlines regrets. Eventually building to a crescendo with an unbelievably strangled guitar solo at the song’s end, this is a fever dream that refuses to die quietly. As a surprising respite from the musical pain, ‘Coward’s Song’ sounds for all the world like a Bonnie “Prince” Billy song (which he has already covered).
The closing notes of ‘Alibi Song’ are a study in terror, while the more conventional ‘Haunted House’ opens with “Your mouth is a haunted house children make up stories about to scare the hell out of each other. I used to haunt it myself when I was your lover.” While the music had begun to mellow out a bit, ‘I’m Not Hurting No More’ sounds almost industrial, using what sounds like an industrial pile driver to underpin chain saw guitar. It’s one of the more unsettling moments on a disc featuring many.
The final track, ‘Pass The Mask’ has a slightly off kilter country western vibe, yet Neilson’s lyrics offer a different tune, “O my son, how do I begin to tell you all the things I have done? And if I did would you be disappointed? But you get used to living with disappointment. Look at me and your mum.” Subtle levity that almost slips by if you aren’t paying attention.
There is no denying that Andromeda is not an easy listen. Again and again it challenges the audience with dark moments designed not so much to frighten, but to educate about the world Alex Rex inhabits. While not necessarily a pretty place, the sights and sounds enlighten while they ensnare.