King Krule has a lot of gifts that are hard to come by. The project’s red-headed leading man, Archy Marshall, stands so thin I’m always a little worried his guitar might eat him alive, and yet he bellows with an English-accented baritone that can rattle walls and seep its way inside your skull.
Marshall started making music young. He’s tried on different monikers like he’s posing for seasonal Urban Outfitters drops. First he was Zoo Kid, then Edgar the Beatmaker or Edgar the Breathtaker, and his most lasting pseud has been King Krule, ever since his intimate and bluesy 2013 full-length album, "6 Feet Beneath the Moon."
Marshall had carved out a lane and sound for himself before he’d even turned 20. He continued his hot streak with 2017’s "The Ooz," one of the most well-received indie rock records of that year. He profiled as one of the most exciting and prolific voices in the indie world, using vibrant saxophone blues to motivate his moody vocals. That record was a little bloated, but it showed Marshall had ideas beyond his early acoustic hit, “Baby Blue.”
He found some dynamism and versatility, spitting out crisp, impressionistic lyrics on singles like “Czech One” or “Dum Surfer.” His sets don’t have a huge color palette, but he felt comfortable shifting between different blues and grays in a way that you could settle into and want to stay a while. His sense of style is strong and no one quite sounds like him among his contemporaries -- not with his voice, anyway.
But, at 25 years old on his latest album, "Man Alive!," Marshall just sounds tired. Most of the tracks sound like a chore for him, getting up out of a sleepy daze, searching for ways to self-motivate before nestling back into his cave.
The cave he recorded "The Ooz" in is at least next door to the production of "Man Alive!." It’s got the same reverb-heavy sound and the space he’s in sounds as big as ever, but this time he’s yawning more often than he’s spitting venom. All the griminess is gone. He’s no longer caked in dirt, no more ooz, as it were, but he doesn’t have any clarity to show for it.
So often he chooses to drain out all the character from his vocals with distortions, vocoders and double-tracks. He doesn’t have the King Krule-isms here either that typically make his depressed sonic aesthetic contain at least a little fun. Back on “Biscuit Town” he was practically rapping, letting bars spill out of his mouth where he rhymed “ebola," "bipolar," "Motorola" and "Gianfranco Zola” in successive lines.
“Cellular” opens "Man Alive!," which sees Marshall slumped in front of his television like a 1950s dad, who then tries to say something about how we’re just not paying attention to the right things, man. The song finishes with him phoning his ex.
He’s walking through mud to the point where cutting 25 minutes down from "The Ooz" two years ago still feels like far too long spent with King Krule. He’s in a haze, stoned again as he’d put it, but without the whacked-out conspiracy theories that might make him worth listening to, or at least would’ve made him a good hang.
“Comet Face” is the closest he gets to his unique brand of lethargy and vibrancy, but he also buries his voice with layer upon layer of noise, samples and horns. It’s more dynamic than he’ll get for the whole record, but he also feels completely lost. There’s no guiding hand, just vague gestures at ideas that want to get away with being intentionally half-baked.
Contact contributor Conner Evans at email@example.com.