A visit to the Hotel Alexis is a self-contained vacation, a 43-minute respite from the rigors of high-speed life. The power of The Shining Example is Lying on the Floor – the debut solo project of songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Sidney Alexis (who’s ably backed by eight musicians over the course of the 12 songs) – is in its pace. Its stories take time to tell, and Alexis is in no hurry. More impressively, not once does a song beg to be sped up or cut short. Even the remarkably patient opener, “The Season for Working,” does not lack for tempo. From the onset of a pedal steel guitar languishing over a softly brushed snare, the song renders irrelevant the passing of time. Seemingly inconsequential details like the vibraphone droning in the background and the subtle cracks in Alexis’ low voice become essential.
Similar to its slowed-down folksy forefather Sparklehorse, the Hotel Alexis remains interesting even when it is shades away from a whisper; when a guitar sounds as if it would fall silenced if it missed so much as a note; when percussion can come and go as it pleases without disrupting the song’s flow. These are very careful compositions, mated to the speed of life in the idyllic Northeast – home to Alexis and his newly formed label, Broken Sparrow Records.
Alexis shares Sparklehorse songwriter Mark Linkous’ affinity for the old-fashioned. But while Linkous often interprets his subjects with whimsy, Alexis remains staunchly down to earth. There is no fantasy here. In its place is the understated hardship and sadness of everyday life. It is the sort of matter-of-fact melancholy in which it is so easy to take comfort. In “Comeback Kid,” when Alexis sings “The cure is gonna come tonight / They’re bringing me the good, good stuff,” it is certain that he needs a cure, and that we have found ours.
“Dapper Dan” perfects Alexis’ formula: compelling lyrics expressed convincingly over a tranquil yet tuneful accompaniment. “Sell all you have, buy a piano / If you get sad, play just the black keys,” he advises, carrying a gentle melody in his wistful voice. “Ain’t this life sweet, ain’t this life sweet,” he jokes with a straight face later in the song. It’s one of the few lighthearted moments found on The Shining Example is Lying on the Floor, and it makes the album’s refreshing humanity all the more real. What a deal: $15 buys you a lifetime of restful retreats to the Hotel Alexis.