King Krule by August Prum October 13, 2017
King Krule, real name Archy Marshall, became a rock critic darling after his 2013 album 6 Feet Beneath the Moon, a record that if nothing else displayed an exciting and gripping potentiality contained in a scrawny, pale-skinned, ginger-haired frame.
A then 19-year-old Marshall was held up as the next great musical artiste.
Everyone from Kanye West to Beyonce (Marshall said he was ‘not surprised’ that Bey liked his music) to Frank Ocean to Earl Sweatshirt sung his praises. Travis Scott remixed one of his songs. Marshall could’ve worked with any of these artists and done anything he wanted in music and art. Instead, he receded into background.
Marshall told the New York Times’ Joe Coscarelli about turning down a chance to work with Kanye West,
“‘I remember even getting hit up by Kanye to go to the studio. Anyone else in my shoes would’ve done it,’ he said. ‘I couldn’t be bothered.’ It wasn’t out of a sense of superiority, he stressed, but because of the pressure to create on call.”
Marshall went into his own oozy, dark underworld, far away from the desperate rock media that wanted so badly to make him the King that his moniker suggests. He holed up in his South London flat, haunted by insomnia and anxiety about his newfound standing as the savior of rock music.
When Marshall did release new music, it was under different monikers. He made beats for Earl Sweatshirt as Edgar the Beatmaker, his hip-hop production alias.
Under his real name, Marshall and his brother released a mixed-media project A New Place 2 Drown, a collection of experimental trippy production and an accompanying (very dense) art book.
Four years after 6 Feet Beneath the Moon, Marshall is back as King Krule and his new project The OOZ delivers on the raw potentiality that music critics and artists alike found so intriguing on 6 Feet.
6 Feet Beneath the Moon, for all its acclaim, was a pretty random amalgamation of music that Marshall had recorded over the years. Some songs, like the ponderous and beautiful “Out Getting Ribs” Marshall wrote when he was 12.
This gave 6 Feet a slightly unconnected quality.
You could almost hear the artist trying to figure out exactly what the fuck he was supposed to do with all this emotion and talent.
At times, there was pure rock goodness, like on the driving “Easy Easy,” which could’ve been taken right out of Billy Bragg’s library.
Then there was the metronomic trip-hop number “Will I Come” with its loopy production. For all the diversity, there was a clear lack of focus.
On The OOZ, it’s clear that whatever experiences Marshall has been through in the past four years, the British songwriter has honed in on his artistic vision.
He told the New York Times that he had been in a sort of stagnation after 6 Feet Beneath the Moon but meeting two particular people allowed the creativity to pour out of him,
“I was going to the same pubs, chilling with the same friends. Then I got these two exotic people in my life and all of a sudden things started to change.”
One of these people is a Spanish saxophonist Ignacio Salvadores, who plays throughout The OOZ, who Marshall met when Salvadores sent him a random Facebook video of the Spaniard playing.
The other, a woman from Barcelona, became a creative muse for Marshall throughout the recording process. She helped his creativity and just generally made him feel better,
“It gave me something romantic, every time I’d go home. Every night I’d play guitar and she’d be sat there and she’d look beautiful. It helped my outlook on myself and the record.”
Marshall’s muse appears on the record as well, reading a poem in Spanish on “Bermondsey Bosom (Left)”. Marshall’s father reads the same poem in English on “Bermondsey Bosom (Right)” later on the album.
From the opening track “Biscuit Town” on The OOZ, Marshall treats the listener to his wide array of skills, this time focused on a specific vision.
Kick drums jaggle along as Marshall wraps his airy, floaty guitar around the listener. The drums are raw, the guitar polished and clean, this duality is a trademark of Marshall’s sound.
This goes not just for Marshall’s instrumentation, but his lyrics and voice. He has one of the most distinct, bizarre voices of any contemporary songwriter, at times he is reduced to a small whisper, at other he wails away seemingly unhinged.
On “The Locomotive,” Marshall goes back and forth between his manic screams and a contained whisper.
At one moment he screams,
“In the dead of night I howl
We all have our evils”
Then, he whispers,
“I wish I was equal, if only that simple
I wish I was people”
“Dum Surfer” is a standout, if there can be any on a nearly perfect album. It’s a groovy number that rides along with an element of precise improvisation, unfolding into a guitar solo that segues into a wailing saxophone.
Many of the themes present on 6 Feet Beneath the Moon, especially with regards to Marshall’s songwriting, are present again on The OOZ. Namely the color blue, deep and oppressive images of water, insomnia, and all-enveloping loneliness.
On “Lonely Blue” we get a lot of these themes at the same time. It’s a melancholic blues (no pun intended) record as Marshall sings,
“The blue cave, the deep dark unknown
Submerged forever soaked to the bone
She screams but she’s stone”
“Lonely Blue” unfurls into a whole wall of sound as Marshall literally yelps and then screams “So lonely” repeatedly.
That poetic songwriting is what makes Marshall such an intriguing young artist. He’s a poet and musician in equal measure. On “Emergency Blimp” he writes of his insomnia in less of a riddle. Marshall sings,
“But the doctor said it’s cool, just take these in the dead of night
Within the deepest sleep you’ll fall
My head hit bed but my mind’s still alive
These pills just make me, these pills just make me DROOL“
Marshall writes again about his insomnia on “Half Man Half Shark” a song that conjures a horrific image of a beast doomed to lay awake forever. Marshall moans about not being able to calm himself in the dead of night,
“Simple soft thoughts, simples soft thoughts become menacing
Twisted raw adrenaline
Racing through my bones, racing through my body”
That idea, “simple soft thought become menacing” mirrors Marhsall’s sound as King Krule.
The opposing sides of Marshall fight throughout this album, raw emotion and polished musicality, dark and light, loose improvisation and precise calculation, heartbreak and love.
It’s what makes Archy Marshall such a compelling artist and this active conflict makes The OOZ a special project. It is truly a masterpiece, the work of an artist that has realized their potential.
It’s King Krule’s dark, dirty, watery world of sleepless nights and we are all his subjects.