On his third album, King Krule (Archy Marshall) matures while staying in the dark, wavy, and distorted environment his listeners have become so accustomed to.
The world he paints through his vastly narrowed poetic lyrics, however, have lightened. King Krule: A man who was dead, but has become ‘Man Alive!’; this change comes both inside and outside a humming metropolis. Similar to the way Mary Shelly created Frankenstein with pen and paper, Krule crafts himself into a lurching being with a stream of consciousness constantly imaged through sonics.
What in many artists could be seen as a flaw, Archy touts as his greatest strength. You truly could take tracks from ‘Man Alive!’, superimpose them onto ‘6 Feet Beneath the Moon’ or ‘The Ooz’, and have no one be the wiser. Instead of this stylistic repetition failing him, Marshall’s songwriting becomes the centerpiece as you peer through his expected delivery. From song to song, we bear witness to the evolution and growth of King Krule as an artist. On “Cellular”, the opening song of the record, he blares, “Theres a massacre/ across the ocean/ I can see it/ in the palm of my hand.” Eclectic lines like this, which float over reverb drenched guitars, muddy bass and punchy programmed drums, reflect Archy’s depthful interpretation of the environment which contains him. The energy given off is eerily in line with being contently helpless. In a switch from the focus on themes that encompass a much greater breadth of emotion on ‘The Ooz’, ‘Man Alive!’ as a whole focuses on individual moments and snapshots of time.
Punk rock tinged songs like “Stoned Again” and “Comet Face” punch you right in the face in a way only King Krule can, carrying along a red-eyed, sluggish chaos. The brilliance of these tracks is understated by a first listen: with every successive evaluation you will find something better and better. Saxophone mimics a screaming man. Politically inclined jabs tear at the genres Marshall has often commented on as shaping him as an artist. One lyric catches me every time on “Stoned Again”: “10th birthday/ Got a Puppy / Now i’m back in the park / with the middle class/ jobs/ tryna get lucky”. I’ll let you look further: It’s an endless pit of the best fucked up Christmas gifts you could receive.
“The Dream” is exactly what it sounds like. A 1:39 REM cycle of Archy Marshall.
Then, finally, we hear the jewel presented on the short film ‘Hey World!’: “Perfecto Miserable”. It’s incredible to witness the contrast between the presentation and the short film, with the final cut becoming more tender while simultaneously more intense. Opening and closing with the dial tones present throughout the record, this is a love song for those lost deep in the metropole. I’ll let the lyrics speak for themselves: “You’re the only thing/ that makes me feel alright/ I guess I have to go/ and in my silence/ its so menacing/ and when i’m left alone/ it’s so damaging./ […] the walls cave in/ and i’m able to escape it all.” The analogy of walls–their encapsulating as well as their freeing nature–appears in multiple places on the album.
“(Don’t Let The Dragon) Draag On” is one of those places. Marshall speaks, “Walls get taller/ self medicate.” Getting high as an escape from the expectations and reactions of those around him comes into play heavily on this song, over a lurching cut of Archy’s voice: “To Be Hu-man”. The being we are now familiar with walks throughout the city, held by its confines.
“Theme for the Cross” is one of my favorite tracks off the album: as an interlude of sorts it adds more depth to the duality of a metropolitan existence. Sweet sweeping synth pad chords layered with saxophone imitate the waking of the being to witness the beauty of the world, which is calmly interrupted by Marshall speaking on the destruction and pollution of the city. Marshall finishes with, “I aint felt this well or this awful.” It feels as though this song was a partial escape from the rest of the record.
Every song can be seen as a working evolution of the creations first attempted on earlier albums. “Underclass” is a perfect example of the mastery and control over the poetic, jazzy tones first attempted by Marshall on “Will I Come” and “Midnight 01 (Deep Sea Diver)” off of ‘6 Feet Between the Moon’ and ‘The Ooz’ respectively.
“Energy Fleets” is another piece that was hinted at through a stripped down version on the film ‘Hey World!’. Unlike “Perfecto Miserable”, this version maintains the same vibe as the film: calm, collected, moving. It’s beautiful.
Archy’s creation of the record spanned a period of intense growth and maturing, and it is evident. Many lyrics and song structures off of the record have much to do with nervousness leading up to the birth of his first child with Charlotte Patmore. All but two songs were written prior to the arrival of his son and the move from chaotic South London to the outskirts of Lancashire; this shows through the development of the record, which begins in the electric spinning of the city and slowly winds away into the reflective growth of the hillside.
In the same way that his songwriting stays steady, Marshall’s production seems expected. Of course, you pull back the surface level and realize that the experimentation on this project is actually stellar, just hidden. For example, Nilüfer Yanya’s “Small Crimes” is sampled twice on the album: first on the first single released from the project, “(Don’t Let the Dragon) Draag on”, and second on “Airport Antenatal Airplane”. On “Airport Antenatal Airplane”, the pitched vocals and guitar of Yanya are drenched in a smooth bass, sounds of a thunderstorm, as well as more spacey programmed drums and textures. While pads play a cloud-like ballad, Marshall almost whispers his lyrics. Throughout the entire record, a sampled vocal from an Otis Redding drum break appears from song to song as well.
“Please Complete Thee”, the final track of the album, is the most captivatingly dissonant track I have heard. It sounds as though Marshall recorded the lyrics over another chord progression and created a new beat around the acapella. The first ~3 minutes builds in a strange, numb, monotony and the uncomfortable mismatching of the lyrics builds the Marshall crones over tracing pads and wet reverbed drums: “Or am I still in shapes in the clouds/ Did you see me on TV? / Have you seen the disaster” Until finally, Krule sings “…girl./ please complete me.” The track drifts into a sunset of guitar and bells providing a resolution found sparsely throughout the entire record. Marshall ends on a high note to his latest creation.
Overall, would I say this is King Krule’s greatest work in recent memory? It definitely tops ‘The Ooz’, and comes close to ‘6 Feet Beneath the Moon’, which was once groundbreaking. But it wasn’t anything I wouldn’t expect. And that is completely fine. In creating his own genre outright and leading a semi-underground wave of inspiration for nearly the past decade, King Krule has cemented his sound and instead focuses the majority of his experimentation on artistic accompaniments to his intense and improved songwriting. Short films and videos like ‘Hey World!’, the music videos for “Cellular”, “(Don’t Let the Dragon) Draag on”, and “Alone, Omen 3” display a level of collaboration and direction not seen before from the South London native. This record probably won’t change your life, but it is a pleasure to be a part of the further growth of Marshall artistically and literally.
Stream ‘Man Alive!’
Tour dates for ‘Man Alive!’ tour:
Brussels, Belgium Ancienne Belgique (AB)
Dallas, TX, US House of Blues Dallas presented by Cricket Wireless