By Alex Leggatt
Αrchy Marshall’s last release is both bold and expansive artistic statement, yet strangely elusive. Recording under the pseudonym King Krule, Marshall deftly blends genres of free jazz, brutal punk riffs and smooth hip-hop beats to form a cohesive album. Explored within the seventeen tracks are meditations on unrequited love, isolation and bathing in one’s melancholy.
Opening the album is ‘Biscuit Town’, a track that gradually layers Krule’s vocals with subdued yet jazzy keyboard synths, and thus setting the tone for the remainder of the album.
Identity is a key theme in Marshall’s work. The only thing that remains constant throughout his albums is his growling London accent, whilst his recording names change constantly. He has released music under a plethora of pseudonyms, including Zoo Kid, DJ JD Sports, Edgar the Beatmaker and his original name; Archy Marshall. Having previously received critical acclaim for his 2013 release 6 Feet Beneath the Moon, performing on both Conan and David Letterman, Marshall has now seemingly retreated to the comfort of anonymity. Through maintaining an intangible and elusive presence, his music is imbued with this same mysteriousness. Ironically, Marshall also achieves anonymity in releasing under his real name in A New Place 2 Drown, which featured subtle low-fi beats and luscious, imaginative instrumentation. Arguably the most iconic part of Marshall’s appeal is his harsh, evocative howl, which was distinctly missing in this album, disappearing into the deeply layered textures of instrumentation.
The sense of a sprawling, urban existence is surmised in “Logos”, a quintessentially Krule track, with the rambling free style jazz saxophone effortless blending with dreamy synths and a minimalist bassline.
In The OOZ, Marshall finds a way to incorporate his biting vocals with his skilful beat making capabilities. The guitar strums are still present, yet the raw emotion of his first album seems to be somewhat muted and subdued, travelling just beneath the surface. Even so, Marshall’s rage does appear on a few of the tracks on the album: the racing bassline and the frantic screams of “Vidual” evoke the cries in Krule’s 2013 hit track “A Lizard State” and in “Half Man Half Shark”, Marshall arouses a haunting image of decay and destruction that replaces the remembrance of a time once cherished. The lack of ‘trust’ holding the ‘frame of rust’ that connects Marshall and his muse together signify the loss of connection and conviction in their relationship. Ultimately, it is his ‘corrosive touch’ which destroys the relationship. As is common in the album, Marshall’s violent emotions are never allowed to overpower the song. Halfway through the track, it breaks, suddenly, into a heavenly bridge, with piano chords delicately sweeping the vocals away; a symbol of his acceptance in ‘forever be[ing] alone’.
“I’m alone, I’m alone…In deep isolation”
“Bermondsey Bosom (Left)” and “Bermondsey Bosom (Right)” provide vignettes that shed light on Marshall’s exposure to a cold, urban and heartless youth, growing up in south London. The spoken word account of both his career thus far and his isolation in a ‘city of parasites’ evokes almost Eliotian despair at modern society, paralleling The Waste Land’s ‘Unreal city’ with his own desired ‘paradise’. According to a Noisey article, these two tracks were originally going to be a seven-minute ‘soundtrack to a walk Marshall would take, winding along next to a railway track’ to Peckham, making these two tracks particularly pertinent to Marshall’s own youth. However, here is an instance where Krule’s desire for self-indulgence and mystery merely confuses the listener; one of the two spoken word pieces is performed by a Spanish woman, which feels jarringly out of place. The sense of a sprawling, urban existence is surmised in “Logos”, a quintessentially Krule track, with the rambling freestyle jazz saxophone effortless blending with dreamy synths and a minimalist bassline.
Opening the album is ‘Biscuit Town’, a track that gradually layers Krule’s vocals with subdued yet jazzy keyboard synths, and thus setting the tone for the remainder of the album. ‘Biscuit Town’ refers to a nickname for the town, Bermondsey, where Marshall grew up. Thus, the track is a personal, deep reflection on his introspective and oftentimes helpless mindset. “I seem to sink lower” he croons contemplatively, while those around him are merely “shallow waters”, “orbit[ing] with some stupider hoes”. Krule seems completely comfortable in this state of gloom, embracing it wholeheartedly and even exploiting it for aesthetic purposes, providing the source for criticism of his self-indulgent tendencies throughout the album. Continuing the exploration of London suburbia, Krule takes us on a dystopian train journey through his own mind in ‘The Locomotive’; “I’m alone, I’m alone…In deep isolation”. Sonically, this track mimics the rhythms of a train with a slow, repetitive bassline and a distorted train whistle providing the backdrop to Krule’s softly spoken words. Ebbing and flowing like the locomotive’s journey, the track contains itself artfully, never allowing the continuous claustrophobic crescendos to overcome itself, serving as a continual reminder of the subdued, raw emotion suppressed by Krule.
One can understand the aesthetic approach Marshall has adopted here by giving a voice to the pain of isolation, but at times this seems to take away from the project as a cohesive whole.
This emotion reaches its zenith in ‘Dum Surfer’, Marshall’s most evocative and haunting track to date. Devilish ghouls murmur in amongst Krule’s lurid laugh as the track opens to a siren-like wail and this gothic theme is continued through the music video, depicting Marshall and his band as hollow-eyed zombies. Krule continues to explore failed relationships and isolation, alluding to the train that would ‘fucking crash’ if he and his muse were together. Emotions of loss and desertion evoke Krule’s iconic growl, which is on full display here. The instrumentation compliments these nightmarish vocals, with the infusion of jazzy, blaring brass instruments with punk-inspired guitar chords being complimented by a bassline that makes the hair on the back of one’s neck prickle.
This promising introduction to the album isn’t to say that there aren’t some low points on the album: some tracks such as “Lonely Blue” and “Czech One” drag on too long, verging on self-indulgence. “A Slide In (New Drugs)” drones eerily on, with discordant layers grating the ears. One can understand the aesthetic approach Marshall has adopted here by giving a voice to the pain of isolation, but at times this seems to take away from the project as a cohesive whole. Despite this, these few songs are largely overshadowed by the rest of the album, particularly the final three songs, which provide a fitting conclusion. “The Ooz” opens with Krule calling out “is anybody out there?”, while an unnamed girl replies “the locomotive has arrived”, suggesting the possibility of a connection that has eluded them the whole album. The chorus’ delicate, melodic guitar riffs signify this further, with Krule allowing himself to question “can we meet here?”. And yet, as with “The Locomotive”, the small window of hope is superseded by damning, melancholic verses, with descending guitar arpeggios signifying a descent into loneliness and a loss of previous hope. In the most heartfelt part of the album, Krule resignedly accepts his loss, wailing “within your heartbeats, you say goodbye”, a pain so tragic that even “Lucifer cries” and the final two songs show Krule at his finest, with “Midnight 01 (Deep Sea Diver)” breaking into an expansive jazz interlude, and “La Lune” concluding the album with his understated soft vocals.
This album may not be for every listener; even, or maybe especially, those fond of 6 Feet Beneath the Moon. However, give the album the patience it requires and it will transform into a unique and emotive contemplation on the inner turmoil of urban existence, loneliness and loss.
Photograph: spawnbleed via Flickr