'Man Alive!' review: King Krule aka Archy Marshall returns with a somber, atmospheric, jazz-tinged masterpiece
There's plenty to love on this new album, with its dark, dreamy moodscapes and broody, world-weary introspection
King Krule is the brainchild of the 25-year-old British singer-songwriter, Archy Marshall, who dons many monikers and dives in and out of multiple musical genres with consummate ease. Never a great student, and constantly finding himself in disciplinary trouble at school, the lanky young Marshall's immense musical talent might have been the one thing that eventually saved him. His unique sound blends elements of punk jazz, darkwave, dub, and hip-hop to make for an eclectic concoction that is as trippy and beguiling as it is dark and mysterious.
Kicking off his music career as Zoo Boy when he was barely 16 years old, before choosing his current stage name, King Krule (an ode to Elvis Presley's 'King Creole' film), Marshall's gritty baritone voice and penchant for arty post-punk blended with brooding jazz made him sound like no other young artiste on the market. Definitely no one else was making songs that sounded like Tom Waits and Elvis Costello had spawned a lovechild, then abandoned that boy in a smoke-filled jazz club, leaving him to fend for himself by washing dishes and singing for his supper every night. If that imagery conjures up visions of a tortured soul who exorcises his demons by the medium of modern jazz fusion, then you're starting to get a pretty good handle on the inimitable King Krule.
His previous albums as King Krule, '6 Feet Beneath the Moon' and 'The Ooz' (sandwiching 'A New Place 2 Drown' as Archy Marshall) did pretty well both critically and commercially, so anticipation was high when it came to his fourth studio LP, called 'Man Alive!'
By the sound of things, it seems that Marshall has certainly upped his game for his listeners on this new 11-track album — although ironically, he's managed to become a bit more inscrutable and slightly less accessible when compared to his previous records, which were rather more easy-listening affairs. Still, that's a minor quibble, as there's plenty to love on this new album, with its dark, dreamy moodscapes and broody, world-weary introspection.
'Cellular', the opener to 'Man Alive!' blends a lumbering bassline, gurgling synths, mobile phone beeps, and sequenced beats to form a backdrop for King Krule's laments on the loss of connection in modern world — "Below the ground floor / I'm losing signal, we've lost connection / I left her dying, she was still crying / And now she's lying in my head."
This despondent mood sets the tone for the songs that follow — Marshall uses his raspy vocal register and anguished growls to great effect, as he drapes his oblique jazz chords over moody basslines so deep they almost sound philosophical, while waxing poetic on the state of the modern world, and consequently, the state of affairs in his troubled mind.
'Supermarché' is as strange and unsettling as it is atonal and amorphous, while 'Stoned Again' wonderfully employs dissonant saxophone and a rumbling bassline as the backdrop to Marshall's half-rapped, half-wailed poetry.
'Comet Face' immediately launches you into alien territory with its grim guitars and tip-toeing bass, and 'The Dream' oozes mellow, murmuring surrealness that seems like a prelude to falling asleep.
'Perfecto Miserable' is a tender love song that juxtaposes glistening guitars with Marshall's heartfelt yearning, and that number is immediately followed by one of the stand-out tracks on the album, called 'Alone, Omen 3'.
Here, Marshall's melancholic songwriting really shines through over swirling washes of electronic noise and a trip-hop soundscape - "The ache and thunder in the storms of your mind / Soak it in, for the rain will pass in time / Nothing wrong in sinking low in the omen of paradise / You're the ghost they put aside." He then offers up a glimmer of hope amongst the gloom, however — "But don't forget you're not alone / Sometimes you're stretched."
That "stretched" motif is further explored in the introspective and haunting 'Slinky', while 'Airport Antenatal Airplane' is a nostalgic, sentimental ode to love and what it means in this modern age.
Archy Marshall found out that he was going to be a father when he was halfway through the recording of this album, and accordingly, it's almost like the album's tone and mood shifts ever so slightly onto a meditative tangent after the halfway point on this LP.
In the track '(Don't Let The Dragon) Draag On' he offers solace to those suffering from depression — "I hang my head for those / Who ain’t been held too close / In times of pain / When the ceiling drips / Rooms bathed in grey." The stark music video shows Marshall being burned at the stake, almost offering himself up as a tormented martyr in order to ease our aches.
The next two tracks are exquisite, and quite possibly some of King Krule's best work — 'Theme for the Cross' features gorgeous saxophone and lovely sonic textures, as Marshall admits that "sometimes I watch the TV in my head".
The next track, 'Underclass', harkens back to some of King Krule's finest tunes from his back catalog, with its romantic overtures and contemplative lyrics — "And find me those big sad eyes / I lay down on the empty streets / The roads seem to lead me to you."
'Energy Fleets' is a ballad about the absurd state of affairs in today's world, as Marshall muses to himself "Such a funny life I lead..."
'Please Complete Thee' sounds like a gloomy James Bond theme that spiraled out of control and went sour — Marshall begs for closure and a balm to soothe his troubled heart and mind, and ends with the despairing "this place doesn't move me / Everything just constantly letting me down."
This is certainly a gloomy and reflective album, but it's also sentimental and euphoric in parts, and that's certainly what makes King Krule so enchanting — he bares his soul for the world to see, and somehow, by sharing in his sorrow, we suddenly feel less alone in our own struggles.