Archy Marshall AKA King Krule is the smoke voiced figurehead of British grunge and jazz fusion. His 2013 debut album "Six Feet Beneath the Moon" sparked interest from teens and critics alike with it's unique sea soaked production and downtempo jams as well as it's ingenuitive fusion of sparse jazz, rich soul and rebellious punk that combined to create an end product that planted his young London mind in the limelight.
His 2017 follow up album "The Ooz" received a 9 from Pitchfork and a "best new music label" due to it's further exploration of urban culture and dense instrumentation that sounded as if it were recorded in a festival tent on the moon. Somber tracks like "Czech One" and title track "The Ooz" included dusty guitar lines, singing Rhodes' and Archy's bruised voice lamenting on the topics of addiction and love while the upbeat jams like "Dum Surfer" and "Emergency Blimp" showed his more aggressive and distressed side with booming Bossa Nova melodies and dissonant tuning that would make a classical guitarist grimace.
His new album "Man Alive!" released in late February of 2020 and it's a more refined album than ever. While in his previous albums, King Krule could be seen as a caterpillar crawling for survival, he has now developed into a butterfly who is more in touch and sentimental than ever. This is partially a result of his marriage and new found fatherhood that has led Archy into a more reclusive and reflective state.
The album opens with "Cellular," an avant-garde slow jam that slowly introduces the listener to King Krule's landscape of cold steel and distorted familiar faces while retaining the subtly coldness that comes with many of King Krule's previous songs. Songs like "Stoned Again" detail the feeling of urban restlessness and the outcome of substance abuse "I ran all the way home right back to my mummy." However there is always an underlying sense of optimism in these songs, more so than on The Ooz.
After a brief interlude of "The Dream," we are welcomed back into his world but this time the tone is settled and Krule sits down at a bar stool and softly sings his soul out in tracks like "Slinky" and "Perfecto Miserable". These songs resonate with me especially in these odd times of isolation, they remind me that there is a world we are yet to discover and people to see and share with. Things may seem dark and dire initially but, much like this album, after some time away they clear up and reveal sweet positivity.
The final four tracks on the album play to my ears like one extended piece. "Theme for the Cross" is perhaps the sweetest song on the album with it's saxophone lines flying high above the soundscape while Archy vocals fade in and out like a distant bell. The lyrics come across as being uncertain of what's to come but being absolutely okay with that- "To men that drowned holding their daughters/ And we weren't allowed refuge from the horrors." What follows is "Underclass", a direct letter to a lover who pulls Archy down "I was doing some good/ I was keeping clean/ Kept my head up above your intimacy." This songs warmth never fails to keep me at ease. The song seamlessly transitions into "Energy Fleets". The first time I heard the album I had listened to his lo-fi field recorded short film "Hey World!" in which he solemnly plays a stripped back version "Energy Fleets" in front of a dreamy maroon sky- this image has stayed in my mind constantly. The song itself is very simple but it's lyrics manage to perfectly capture the feeling of loneliness.
"Where are you going? The day's about to end."
The final track of the album "Please complete thee," has Krule wishing to feel whole in a world of confusion. "Everything just constantly letting me down." The song seems like a return to the pessimistic mentality exhibited earlier in the album but all of a sudden, the regretful singing falls away ,the bass subsides and, as if from the clouds, an array of angelic guitars descend to mark the end of the album. The shimmering soundscape gets intimately close then fades away in an instant, leaving the listener in silence and thought.
To me, "Man Alive!" tells the story of a man who wishes to feel content in the world and leave behind previous grief. King Krule has spent forever "Six Feet Beneath Moon," now I finally believe he's planted his flag.
I hope that anyone reading this gives this album a try, it may resonate with you in ways you didn't anticipate. I aim to write some more reviews and analysis during this isolation period so keep your eye out. Most importantly, stay safe and healthy everyone.
Man Alive is available to stream on all major services and is also available on vinyl. The album contains mature themes that may upset some listeners.