ALBUM REVIEW: Man Alive! by King Krule

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WRITTEN BY: Vince Barreras

London born artist Archy Marshall, also known as King Krule, is back with the follow up to 2017’s The Ooze. Man Alive! (2020) marks the first big release for the post punk and avant-garde project, and sees Marshall building off the sound of The Ooze for a more sound and dystopian record. Filled with dark guitar and jazz sounds, electronic noises, dark wave, ambience, and overall atmosphere, this creates for what is to date King Krule’s best release. Its dark, intense, and above all completely vulnerable and honest with itself as Marshall explores his mind and changing perspective of the world after the birth of his daughter.

King Krule first teased the record three months ago with a short film he released of what seemed to be super 8 film of the artist playing stripped back tunes on acoustic guitar. It shows Marshall walking amongst the desolate London industrial landscape that feels like 90s home footage, only used in an artistic way that perfectly complements the project. It’s mysterious and beautiful, and very soulful — one of the appeals of King Krule. He can write tracks that feel like a post punk experimental track but incorporates electronic and jazz elements that creates something entirely new and original. This short art project in retrospect gave fans a small window into what to expect from the London artist, who tends to have little to no press, social media presence, or other such way for fans to keep up with the artist other than through live shows. In a way, that creates the legend of King Krule and makes this project that much more mysterious, which the film accomplishes. One scene shows Marshall walking with the backdrop of nuclear powerplants in the foreground with accompanying lo-fi guitars playing that reminds of an old Duster track. Archy appears as nothing more than a silhouette, which again, adds to the mystery of the man behind the King Krule name.

The first track “Cellular” begins with a few low-key guitar lines until some electronic dial up noises fill the air of the track before King Krule’s vocals accent the track, until its abrupt end into the second track “Supermarché.” This track is an intense array of rising levels of vocals, and instrumentation that create an anxiety driven track of desperation. The ending of the track has this buildup of No Wave sounding guitars. They build and build until Marshall bellows out “What’s your worth?” and the track ends and moves into “Stoned Again.” Continuing with the same dark atmosphere guitar tones, Marshal speaks about the effects smoking weed and doing drugs have had on his life and relationships. “I was little once more weed smoke made me feel so yucky pullin’ on my brain…” The distress in Marshall voice is heard towards the backend of the track in verse two as the anguish in his voice and the long drawn out yells of the lyrics builds up in an eruption of emotion as the track ends, but what the listener is left with are guitars continuing to ring out for a few more seconds with a distance yet audible Marshall repeating “I’m stoned, again.” 

The wildness does not end there as the following track “Comet Face,” amps up the discomfort, with a continuation of a drug infused state seen from the previous track. This time, the aftereffects of a late night of drug indulgence is on display, and it’s not pretty. Loud instrumentation, especially the abrasive saxophone during the chorus. Marshall’s vocal range going from low and subdued to high octaves in an instance really captures the desperation of the mood. A change in optimisms ends the track as Marshall says “a waste of time” alluding to the idea that the quest for violence, self-destruction, and drugs are a path that could lead to devastating consequences. “The Dream” is a shorter, more toned-down song than the previous with just a simple guitar progression and some electronic based sounds and offers an introspection of life and love from the mind of King Krule. “Perfecto Miserable” is perhaps the most beautiful track contained within this album. An intimate proclamation of love, amidst the chaos of life, King Krule manages to string together line after line of poetic romance. What’s incredible with this song is the context from within the album and what the listener has experienced up until this point. The progression of guitar chords, and combinations of lo-fi and spacey instrumentation makes this track feel isolated and intimate, but also warm. “You’re the only thing that makes me feel alright” shows a calmer and exposed Marshall. 

“Alone, Omen 3” sees Marshall building off this newfound confidence in life, first professing love and now encouraging risk taking for mental and spiritual growth. “Take a ticket, take the train to the end of the line, see where you can go, you spend it, its plastic, no do or die.” For readers of Henry David Thoreau, this reminds of the famous “go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you have imagined” that Thoreau is most famous for. In this instance, Marshall is taking that kind of advice for enlightenment. He finds that life is not always gloom, and “soak it in, for the rain will pass in time” allows for the listener and also Marshall hope that the dark days will pass.  “Slinky” concludes side A with a track similar in tone to “Perfecto Miserable,” but towards the back half of the track becomes more nightmarish in instrumentation and concludes.

Side B begins with “Airport Antenatal Airplane,” which continues the sweet and angelic lyricism from Marshall. It’s a take on the relaxing and effortless nature of flying and being carefree in the air, while escaping the horrors of life.  “(Don’t Let The Dragon) Draag On” represents the constant battle Marshall has within his mental state. While the last few tracks represented optimism, the darkness does often re-present itself. “I keep telling those, expelling those, negative holes to go away, but it seems to grip, more every day.” If “don’t let the dragon” were to represent the outright lyrics of despair than “Theme for the Cross” is what the internalized nonverbals feel and sound like. A darkwave dreamscape of flutes and chilling ambience mixed with lo-fi influences.

The lyrics read at such a low volume as they tend to trail off mid-sentence, as Marshall describes his depressed state, but has a silver-lining in his life, the birth of his daughter. The overwhelming feeling is nullified by the duties he has with his daughter. “Underclass” talks about Marshall meeting his current girlfriend, and how his state of living has changed since meeting her for the better. “Energy Fleets” shows Marshall in a more optimistic view of life in his early fatherhood.  The record concludes with “Please Complete Thee,” and it takes the listener back to a place of loneliness, despair, and dread. “Everything just seems to be numbness around.” The world outlook is bleak and uninspiring to Marshall. The grey of the world seems to be too much. He longs for companionship “Please complete me” as the fuzzed-out guitars strum their final chords and the album comes to a conclusion as they ring out one final time, sustain, and then abruptly end. 

“Man Alive!” is perhaps the masterpiece that will solidify King Krule as one of this generations finest artists. A true visionary who has been at it since the early 2010s and only gets better with age. The instrumentation, lyricism, and unique vocal tone of Archy Marshall are truly something to behold. To live in a time where King Krule reigns at the height of his creative output is a massive privilege. Very few artists are able to capture moods and feelings of this magnitude, unlike Marshall. This could be the beginning of a massive take over by the 25-year-old artist. 

Catch King Krule in Philly at Union Transfer on April 21!

Tracklist:

Side A:

  1. Cellular
  2. Supermarché
  3. Stoned Again
  4. Comet Face
  5. The Dream
  6. Perfecto Miserable
  7. Alone, Omen 3
  8. Slinky

Side B:

  1. Airport Antenatal Airplane
  2. (Don’t Let The Dragon) Draag On
  3. Theme for the Cross
  4. Underclass
  5. Energy Fleets
  6. Please Complete Thee

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