After his second album “The Ooz,” Archy Marshall, also known as King Krule, was at his artistic peak. His newest sonic offering, “Man Alive!” shows he is still distilling his sound in the best way possible.
The native Londoner is no stranger to songs of loneliness that make you feel like you might be stumbling through a David Lynch film or staring into the ceiling fan of a dirty motel. Where “Man Alive!” differs in the tracklist to “The Ooz” it makes up in polished work. The same dystopian feel hangs heavy, but it sits a little differently this time around.
Something has clicked that makes these soundscapes more polished but even more isolating. From the very first beats of “Cellular” there’s a sonic thickness even though real sounds are sparse and light. But it feels like home – a sweet nowhere – once Marshall starts singing in his gravelly, smoke-soaked bass.
“There’s a television…there’s a television, speaking to me…there’s a French girl, on my television – she’s crying – in the palm of my hand.”
“Supermaché” leads into “Stoned Again” to feel like one long post-punk sludge-covered drag. It feels like Marshall is trying to wiggle his way back through the muck and mire of his life to figure out exactly what happened. But where we end up is “Comet Face,” a track King Krule lovers are sure to obsess over.
With the scattered dissonant tones giving way to a thick driving bass line, we know the Gothic dark tones we’re in for and know so well. Marshall’s band is on full display here, playing against a backdrop of what sounds like vocal snippets, with ripping saxophone solos and cacophonies of sound that feel like a car flying off a cliff to nothing.
“Perfecto Miserable” opens up the world from underneath your feet and lets you float through nothing, but in a way it becomes comforting. The warm, slightly dissonant tones, with Marshall’s velvety, smoked-out karaoke bar voice float and warble between the instruments perfectly. Closing your eyes, you can almost feel the shag carpeting beneath your feet as he swings the microphone around and extends a hand to you as he moans “you’re my everything.”
As the club falls away, a darker, almost jazzy rhythm comes in for “Alone” and “Omen 3” and we’re only halfway through.
This is Marshall’s talent, to build worlds so expansive nothing feels real, especially not time. Clocking in at just below 42 minutes (41:51 to be exact) we see a new side of Marshall. The man we knew for chain smoking and brooding into his microphone like some phantom from outer space is still there, only now he has a child.
These cracks of light peep around this moon man’s emotional eclipse once in a while, in only the best way. They still are hard to catch though-don’t be fooled- but they can be found by those who search for them. “Theme for the Cross” has this in a weird way, its ebbing synths and what some might call ASMR give an almost religious feel, like a warm light is visible just over the horizon, for those who choose to chase it.
That might be what differs in this album; it doesn’t wallow in the darkness even though it is so deeply surrounded by it. Just like his concert from the moon, Marshall sits in a vacuum of darkness. The cold vastness envelops him whole, as he plucks at his guitar and taps on his keyboard.
But once in a while, he looks back at Earth, and his blood runs a little warmer, if not for him then for those that rely on him, as he calls out, “what stars are you under?”