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‘Man Alive!’ finds King Krule rising from the ashes, but with no less bark

‘Man Alive!’ finds King Krule rising from the ashes, but with no less bark

‘Man Alive!’ finds King Krule rising from the ashes, but with no less bark
March 04
18:00 2020

Archy Marshall was not a normal teenager when he began composing music under the moniker of Zoo Kid in 2010. Even more recently, he’s not a normal adult, but he’s trying. The 25-year-old English-born artist has more bark and bite than he’s ever had, all while balancing being a newly crowned father. Fitting that his new moniker is now King Krule, and he is making the most dense, abstract and forward-thinking music of his career thus far.

Growing up on jazz standards and punk rock, Marshall has created a strong collage of musical influences that he can now call his own. Some coin him with the creation of the genre “Bluewave,” but he’d probably just tell you he makes music. Regardless, he won’t shy away from his real thoughts.

“I couldn’t give a shit about MP3s…but if you buy my vinyl, I’ll be happy,” said Marshall in an interview with The Guardian in 2013. “…this is a fucking masterpiece of craft and art!”

He is talking about his debut record, “6 Feet Beneath the Moon,” an original, yet somewhat uneven and unrefined debut album and the first under his moniker of King Krule. It was an excellent showcase for his musical talent, playing with elements of jazz chord structure, R&B rhythms and a flair for punk ethos. Thankfully, this would only be a snapshot of what Marshall could bring to the table.

In 2017, Marshall released “The Ooz,” his most dense, abundant and ambitious album to date. The album took the ideas touched upon on “6 Feet Beneath the Moon” and fleshed them out to wildly successful proportions. The chord progressions are snappier, the rhythms are tighter — due to his backing musicians now being trained in jazz — and the lyricism is wittier, but not any less genuine.

Sitting at 19 tracks, the album plays with ideas of jazz, British-based punk, rock, hip-hop and darkwave. It is an intimidating experience, but Marshall wants you to spend time with the album like a fine wine. It is one of the most interesting releases of 2017 and one that should be experienced by most.

Marshall’s music has always been indicative of an art exhibit. Each track segues through his most anguished memories as a young ne’er-do-well and his struggles with depression, paranoia and hopeless love. These songs paint sonic vignettes and play into the whole persona of his creations being a “vibe.”

This idea of sonic vignettes is not lost on the songwriter’s latest album, “Man Alive!” The album trims some of the fat that could bog down “The Ooz” and instead goes for a punchier listening experience. It is arguably his most distressed release yet.

The snark of 2017 single, “Dum Surfer” lives on in album highlights “Stoned Again” and “Comet Face,” which are driven by The Clash-inspired bass lines while Marshall croons in his raspy baritone over the top, which is one of the signature elements of his music.

On “Stoned Again,” Marshall sings, “Yeah, she’s my sweet, my sweet and sour, my lemon honey,” with the swagger of both a rapper and a 50s doo-wop frontman. His confidence is on full display. He is not afraid to elevate his compositions with unconventional vocal inflections and bellowing.

Nuances from electric guitar fluctuations and manic backing vocals ring in the background to push the narrative of paranoia. Marshall touches on stumbling home as a child and trying to fit in with a world that doesn’t particularly know how to fit in with him. It is a poetic treat that holds your attention until the cacophony of the next track appears.

Around the halfway mark of “Comet Face,” Marshall screams his anguish into existence as his cry smoothly transitions into a saxophone solo. This defines the visual essence of his music, giving it a certain mystique not many other artists can offer right now. The saxophone makes its return in the outro of the track, but in a more subdued and melodic manner.

“Cellular” begins the album with electronic interference before going into a tale of how emotions convey themselves through television. The slow burn nature of the track eventually puts you in a meditative state of mind if you’ll allow it. It is telling of the media’s influence on the collective psyche.

Other tracks like “Supermarché” and “(Don’t Let the Dragon) Draag On” slowly creep their way into your consciousness, with the latter being a vital display in musical atmosphere. Its suave seventh chords weave in and out of a dreary rhythm section, creating one of the finest vibes the album has to offer. The melodic and shimmering synths in the background fill out the mix of the track to give the listener a more satisfying experience.

Although the first half of the album is filled with some of Marshall’s most immediate and dissonant songwriting yet, he saves some of his most reflective and sophisticated songwriting for the back half. The album plays off the transition of his life pre-fatherhood and post-fatherhood.

“Underclass” is a beautiful ode to the mother of Marshall’s child, Charlotte Patmore. Its swinging saxophone motif is romantic, optical and one of the most genuine musical moments of his career.

At the same time, album closer “Please Complete Thee” offers a sparse, bleak and ambient musical landscape while Marshall recites philosophical musings about needing that other parental force in his life. It provides a more human element for the conclusion of the album’s narrative and adds dynamic to Marshall as a human being. The song ends with an optimistic, reverberated guitar riff before cutting to silence.

One thing I’ve always appreciated about Marshall’s music is that each track feels self-contained, but he’s obviously an advocate for the idea of an album as a whole. Saying this, I still don’t believe he’s found the most gratifying way to sequence his albums yet. While 2017’s “The Ooz” has a 19-song track list, the album’s highlights are scattered in a way that makes the album as a whole shine.

Both “The Ooz” and “Man Alive!” have moments where the overall tone of tracks bleed into others, but this isn’t always a good thing. On the latter, an interlude-based track like “The Dream” is succeeded by “Perfecto Miserable,” which makes for a slightly bland midsection of the album before “Alone, Omen 3” picks up the pace again. Granted, the first two tracks stand well on their own, but just don’t fully work when sequenced together.

Furthermore, “Alone, Omen 3” is then succeeded by two of the most tedious tracks, “Slinky” and “Airport Antenatal Airplane.” Thankfully, this is upheld by the looming, strong back half of the album.

Overall, “Man Alive!” finds King Krule progressing from the noir-based contemplation on “The Ooz,” but not quite creating a project that stands as its equal. It still definitely sits well in his discography, nonetheless, and marks a pleasant and abstract segue way between the accessibility of “6 Feet Beneath the Moon” and the ambitious songwriting of “The Ooz.”

In “Please Complete Thee,” Marshall mumbles, “Eros’ bow has no archer, Icarus still soars above the ground.” It’s safe to say that Marshall now has a purpose in life, even if he still struggles with his own mentality and world views. Maybe he has a hard time accepting that Eros’ bow might’ve pierced through his tough exterior, or maybe he’s just melodramatic. Regardless, if he’s Icarus, I don’t see him flying too close to the sun anytime soon.

Final rating: 3.5/5

Featured Illustration: Miranda Thomas

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Nick Lawrence

Nick Lawrence

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