Man Alive! and so is King Krule's enduring despair
Artist: King Krule
Label: Matador Records
Top Tracks: Cellular; Stoned Again; Slinky
For Fans Of: Earl Sweatshirt; Connan Mockasin; Mount Kimbie
Few artists meld genres into a distinct, nuanced style like Archie Marshall. A man of many monikers, Archie’s releases under King Krule have been his most critically acclaimed. Man Alive! is King Krule’s third album, following 2013’s 6 Feet Beneath the Moon and 2017’s The Ooz. Both of those previous projects were outstanding displays of his artistic ability, bodies of work that listeners around the world have formed an intimate relationship with. 6 Feet Beneath the Moon, one of my personal favourite albums, was an entirely raw, vulnerable and angst-ridden expression for despondent youth. The Ooz on the other hand, though similarly bleak, traded rawness for richness. The malaise was presented through a sonically dynamic, thematically expansive and lyrically dense and poetic lens – a literal oozing of inner sludge into new corners and depths. This album, on the whole, lies somewhere in between, more opaque and unyielding than anything King Krule has done as of yet, despite still wearing its isolation and emotional potency on its sleeve. King Krule paints with abstruse, anecdotal strokes this time, his typically abstract motifs and imagery serving as snapshots rather than headie sketches.
The opening track, ‘Cellular’, is one of the album’s best. Disillusioned acoustic guitar licks underpin effervescent, teetering digital sound effects that skirt around punching drums. The lyrics touch on the digitalisation of emotion and the desensitizing effect that has on our reception to tragic news, a theme mirrored in one of the album’s later tracks – ‘Theme for the Cross’. The narration on ‘Cellular’ loosely describes a telephone conversation during a train journey, which perhaps represents Archie’s mental state, and his loss of connection to the world when it goes under: “Below the ground floor / We're losing signal, we've lost connection”. We’re pointed to the alienating and often terrifying situation of being “Abandoned to the voice in my head”, where we become our worst selves, where we feel a primal desire to be loved, as Archie’s unhinged, crescendoing chant conveys on the outro: “I phone my ex.”
The energy of the next three tracks is immediately urgent, riotous. When asked about ‘Supermache’, Archie stated that supermarkets serve as a rich source of inspiration due to the heightened societal contiguity of overhearing propaganda-influenced conversations whilst deciding which mass-produced products are most conducive to one’s physical sustenance. Indeed, futile attempts at environmentally conscious consumption is added, on this album, to the arsenal of references that form King Krule’s vivid, esoteric world – (“But all I got was swept aside / Like the pesticide in your vegetables,” he growls on ‘Comet Face’ a couple tracks later; “You flew economy / Reserved your ecology,” he croons on ‘Airport Antenatal Airplane’). The former recounts, through some of the most coded lyrics of the album, a cycle of waking up with delinquent company in Peckham Rye, messy and injured from the previous night’s events that now feel like a “past life”. Sped-up vocals from the Otis Redding drum break sample are looped throughout the track, adding to the lucid, confrontational atmosphere created by the teasing, hop-scotching bass, drilling electric guitar and contorting sax. The track is a fitting companion to the one before, ‘Stoned Again’, where drunk drums coated in dusty reverb evoke a deep internal storm that brews persistently, exploding on the chorus. In his loose, freestyled verses, Archie conveys the frustrating inevitability of his weed dependence.
The album takes a mellow turn after this. Following the naked, sobering expression of isolation on ‘Perfecto Miserablé’, ‘Alone, Omen 3’ offers a beautiful moment dedicated to navigating a depressive period. “The ache and thunder in the storms of your mind / Soak it in, for the rain will pass in time,” Archie advises, acknowledging that as much meaning can be found in the pain, tribulations and hatred of life as in the happiness, blessings and love. This represents a shift from his 6 Feet Beneath the Moon days: “I know when I look into the sky / There is no meaning,” he once grieved on ‘Has This Hit?’. On ‘Slinky’, which transitions seamlessly from ‘Alone, Omen 3’, Archie elaborates on his fear of isolation with some of the most heartfelt lyrics of the album, presenting a caveat to his more optimistic outlook on depression: “Bruising on my right side feels so / With thoughts of her displacement”. ‘(Don’t Let The Dragon) Draag On’ a few tracks later feels like a direct response to ‘Alone, Omen 3’ and ‘Slinky’: an immersive, languid dive into the motions of depression rather than a reassuring rumination on it. Its stale, sardonic grip haunts in the lyrics, as Archie describes a room “bathed in grey” where the “walls get taller”.
A delicate, meditative moment, ‘Airport Antenatal Airplane’ presents the most direct reflection on Archie’s initiation to fatherhood, the anticipation for which influenced his headspace when recording much of the album. A warm, weighted texture is created by the thick guitar plucks and soft, shuffling, staccato drums paired with the remixed, chopped and glued sample of singer Nilüfer Yanya’s ethereal, laden voice. ‘Underclass’ takes a similarly personal approach with Archie’s attention this time focused on his partner. Following the same formula as a few other tracks on the album, a soft, desolate instrumental hovers diffuse, before being brought to the foreground by a singing sax. He reflects on anxiety’s role in his relationship, its persistent attempt to push against intimacy and lend doubt to his experience of affection. He describes this mind state, the place he was in when he met his partner, as being “Under the underclass / Deep in society's hole”. Implying a fear of returning to that place, he repeats “But little did I know”, perhaps suggesting that the unexpected pregnancy caused a welcome rerouting of his mind’s trajectory.
He elaborates on this sentiment on ‘Please Complete Thee’, the last track of the album, resolutely offering himself wholly to his partner, “Please complete me / It must be the answer”. Far from a romantic gesture, the song is a plea over a bare instrumental. In a time of increasing humanitarian tragedy and political antagonising, Archie’s true sentiment when he is done taking inspiration from the chaos of it all in supermarkets and in parks is relatable disillusionment: “Everything just seems to be numbness around”. His burning desire to be with loved ones at a time like now is existential: “Have you seen the disasters? / We don't have long 'til this earth is drowned”.
In places, Man Alive!’s lyrics only create the façade of abstract poetry, when they really serve to paint a space in the instrumental, lend an aesthetic, or just sound cool. In ‘The Dream’, a redundant soundscape interlude between the upbeat and more atmospheric tracks, the lullabied, “Stop making sense of things” comes across as an excuse for the album’s consistent lyrical elusiveness. The track also exemplifies the album’s tendency to sonic fogginess, which hinges on tiresome during the last few tracks upon repeat listens. Though its predecessors are therefore more listenable and will likely prove more enduring than Man Alive!, the album is a welcome addition to King Krule’s unique discography.