The grey dreamscape of King Krule becomes bleaker, more despairing and elegantly rich
A lot has changed in the world of Archy Marshall since the release of 2017’s critically acclaimed ‘The Ooz’. For starters he has moved out of his resident London where his signature sound and stories where born and moved up north to live closer to his girlfriend, photographer Charlotte Patmore, ‘s family.
There’s also the recent arrival of their daughter, Marina, who although wasn’t born at the time of making this album will of undoubtedly, like any small addition to a family, will have given Archy a whole new spectrum of responsibilities.
At the end of 2019, after almost a year of silence, Archy released a would be teaser for this album in the form of the ‘Hey World!’ video, filmed and directed by Charlotte Patmore. It saw him debut four new songs that would end up on ‘Man Alive!’, playing them out in the cold Cheshire countryside in their most simplified and raw form. A return to form and for many fans this was what they had been waiting almost three years for. But the question remained; how well would they translate on the album?
The answer, thankfully, is a resounding beautifully. The rich and often bleak sonic landscapes that encapsulate ‘Man Alive!’ make you feel as if you’re living in Archy Marshalls daydream as the world floats on by and you watch through the window of his eyes.
Opener ‘Cellular’ blends together to atmospheric and ambient sounds of ‘The Ooz’ with the more indie and punk feeling of his debut album under the King Krule pseudonym ‘Six Feet Beneath The Moon’ as Archy tries to understand the modern world around him and the feeling of lost connection “We’re losing signal, we’ve lost connection, I left her dying, she was still crying”.
The album loses its feet a bit with song ‘Supermarche’ as the sparse instrumentation, lack of direction and loose drum beats come off a bit too avant-garde and almost lose any structure the song could have had. The song does have some of that typical Archy growl in the chorus but its not enough to save the whole piece.
However the pace is quickly found again over the next two songs as the menacing riff of ‘Stoned Again’ scratches into the your ears and Archy brings out his signature growl whilst the deep sub bass is a welcome throwback to ‘Dum Surfer’ from ‘The Ooz’. The song builds to a powerful climax as layers of distorted guitars and angry vocals are layered on top of each other.
The drone of comet face is quickly met with a rolling beat that creates the sensation of walking down a dark alley at night. Archy is guiding you home after a long night with the lyrics reflecting on the streets Peckham are where he grew up. “Not again, its Peckham Rye at half five, boy on the ground with his pants down, what happened to him in his past life?”. This track has significant sonic texture with the sampled voices in the background making you feel like you’re surrounded as you walk home and even features a short screaming saxophone solo.
The Dream marks a turning point in the album, it could almost be considered an interlude, with the off key piano sequence and repetition of the title this seems as though we may be entering a dream like state for the rest of the album, or at least deeper into Archy’s subconscious.
The first track to be featured on ‘Hey World!’, ‘Perfecto Miserable’ is a gloomy ode to a loved one that explores themes of loneliness and despair when they leave. In its raw form it was a gentle reminder of Archy’s sweet songwriting talent. In the studio it builds to create powerful deep gloom that is often found on many King Krule songs as the mist of isolation slowly rolls in.
‘Alone, Omen 3’ has the sensation of of travelling along on a train journey as the riff and beat slowly chugs along and the synth drops in and out as the doors open. “Take a ticket, take the train to the end of the line, see where you can go, you spent it, it’s plastic, no do or die”. One of the stand out tracks from ‘Man Alive!’ it perfectly showcases Archy’s unique songwriting talent and could be considered the defining moment of the whole album.
Whilst ‘Slinky’ reminisces in the riffs that make up some of the early King Krule releases, with an aptly fitting slinky bass line, it has a slow but gradual build of noise and distortion that has already become familiar on the album, but doesn’t offer anything wildly different than has already been heard. It still carries the themes of living in a dream that overarch the second leg of the album “The dreams told me, I dreamt i was here before, A cloudy view” and the transition between these last three tracks is very seamless.
The more hip-hop element of Archy’s previous work comes out in ‘Airport Antenatal Airplane’ with the fast paced beat and vocal sample from Nilufer Yanya. Another track that feels like an interlude, with other sampled elements being thrown in to create an ambient landscape as Archy gazes up at the sky watching the world fly by him.
The first single to be released from the album, and also another from ‘Hey World!’, ‘Don’t Let The Dragon (Draag On) is an ode to those bleak days where you don’t want to leave the house, gazing out the window as people pass it by. Stylistically it’s perhaps the most similar song to The Ooz on the album, with pitched down vocals, jazzy chords and surreal harmonies. A personal highlight that encompasses the true King Krule sound.
‘Theme for the cross’ is the most atmospheric track on the album with the woozy saxophone drifting in and out has the vibe of an old 70’s police detective show theme tune. The spoken word passages that dominated The Ooz make a cameo appearance and Archy gets his most political. “To men that drowned holding their daughters, and weren’t allowed refuge from the horrors, the instruction was mutual borders”.
The jazzier side of Archy’s songwriting is found on ‘Underclass’ with a groovy swing to it. The easiest listen on the album, this song could easily be found crooning its way through the airspace of a 1950’s dance hall. It also comes packaged with a short but tasty saxophone solo that’ll have you out of your seat and slowly grooving along to it.
The final stretch of the album returns to the bleak Lynchian-like landscape that dominate the sound of King Krule. ‘Energy Fleets’ is the inner conscience coming front and centre. The same idea swirling around your head “Such a funny life I lead, Such a funny life” unable to escape the thought of where you’ve ended up and where you could have been.
The droning bass that leads into ‘Please Complete Thee’, the final track from ‘Hey World!’, paints the picture of a baron wasteland with life at a standstill. The overhanging guitars and dirty bass make you feel like your stood completely alone looking out at a grey sea as the tide slowly rolls out and leaves you. But the ethereal glimmers and shining synths of the outro suggest that although things may be bleak now, there’s hope on the horizon.
Archy Marshall is alive and well and is perhaps the songwriter we need in this modern day. Where ‘The Ooz’ was in a world of it’s own ‘Man Alive!’ is a portrait of the modern world and the struggle we all face trying to understand it. Like the Mona Lisa it’s often hard to tell if it’s smiling or not, either way we’re sure to be gazing at it for a long time to come.