Sorry folks, but I’m headed out onto the ice of division again. Sure as night follows day I’m back with another review of another male singer songwriter of the British persuasion who divides opinion across the board. and this time, he divides mine too.
A few years ago I came across some hype about ‘Zoo Kid’. Then a 16 year old, making sparse musical thrashings stunningly beautifully for his age, now Archy Marshall is back as King Krule (yes, SNES Donkey Kong [maybe]), following up his debut EP with an album, ‘6 Feet Beneath the Moon’. Clearly the powers that be in the industry see big things for him, having been picked up by XL Records and paired with producer Rodaidh Mc Donald (The XX, Daughter, Gil Scott-Heron). I’m not sure that so much hype and exposure is helping him right now (think English footballing talent), though I’m sure he’s learning a great deal in that environment.
Don’t be shocked when you put this record on. Krule sounds like a slightly lairly-looking, leather jacket clad ‘tough’ hanging around as an extra in the diner from Happy Days, gargling treacle and not talking to anyone. If you can synthesise a sound from that description, you’ll be there or thereabouts. Having gone to great lengths to say that, Krule is not the thug you might have construed, but he does have a sweet mouth. The broadness of his musical appreciation shows throughout the album, with hints of Rock n’ Roll, spoonsful of avant-garde jazz, whispers of soul and Motown, 90’s Detroit hip-hop, and more modern chopped-and-screwed/bass-music tinges. In fact, if anything there are a few too many ideas going on here, or at least they come a little too thick and fast to be comfortable, and that’s comfort you gain from the second listen, when you’ve managed to get over the vicious, syrupy drawl of his voice.
If anything, his vocal delivery and wordsmithing reminds me of Ghostpoet to quite a large extent. After listening to this album twice in a row before heading to Sainsbury’s to stock up on bottles to smash by way of relating to the teenage street-angst, I didn’t have any of the tracks in my head, and found myself turning over lines of ‘Finished I Ain’t’ from ‘Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam. I can’t really justify the connection more than that really, other than the vocal delivery is similarly loose. Ghostpoet is slightly more finessed with his lyrics, but they have a similar existential conversational style. By that I mean that the words are more important than how well they fit with the rest of the music. A point that some say is the basis for arguing that he would be better served writing for others. Either as a producer for another wordsmith, or providing his words and voice for another producer, as he did to great acclaim with Mount Kimbie earlier this year.
Contrary to my view on most albums, this is one you can dip in and out of (a few tracks at a time of course), but it doesn’t really matter where you drop the needle. It does mellow towards the end ever so slightly, but the 14 tracks could fit together however you wished. Because of this, I’m not going to go through in any particular order, but just pick out a few of my favourite tracks and moments.
Border Line is probably the most ‘single-ready’ track on the album, well constructed and very melodic. A style I would encourage him to continue with. ‘Baby Blue’ goes further than this to the point of being positively beautiful. Archy positively croons at us, silkier than any other male vocalist contemporary he might be compared with (comparisons with Jake Bugg are just insulting if you ask me). Had ‘A Lizard State’ been on Arctic Monkeys new album I’m sure it would be hailed as them back to their best form, something I worry we won’t be saying about their latest offering (though that is entirely because I’ve not heard it yet and get pissed off when albums are hyped so hard before they drop. Always end up being poor in my book). Foreign 2 has a particularly strident instrumental, but one might worry he’s trying to work the lyrics too much.
Krule runs us through a plethora of his musical talents on the second half of the album, playing with many different styles., mixing them up and not playing them by the rules. Then he treats us to ‘Out Getting Ribs’, a track that has been around since the days of Zoo Kid, but is laid out in stripped-down expansiveness here. A real standout and a good tester: if you don’t like it, you won’t like the album.
Having read other reviews floating the globe, King Krule is invariably described as a ‘punk’ or having ‘punk mentality’. I could accept the latter, but don’t let the ‘p’ word scare you off. Yes he does get ever-so-slightly loutish and shouty at times, but it’s not really external anger that’s bursting through, it’s internal. Frustration, isolation and confusion stretch their arms and push against the skin, and this comes out through his voice. He’s no more a punk than Tom Waits is. And he makes a good comparison. The music is not to everyone’s tastes, and the vocal tone is too raw for some to stand, but Waits became a cult hero, and I have a feeling that if Mr Marshall goes and settles himself before his sophomore LP, he may follow in his footsteps.
Find him at:
Oh, and here’s a track that didn’t make it to the album for whatever reason, but possibly shows the way forward, and is probably my favorite from Marshall yet!