With his pale white skin and deep red hair, Archy Marshall is more like a human embodiment of a cigarette than he is a singer/multi-instrumentalist. He’s got the voice to match, too: gnarled, deep and gruff. Rather than let his unconventional appearance and voice hold him back, he leans directly into it, using the combination to create stunning visual art and haunting recorded music. His work under his given name is great, but his work under the moniker King Krule is, somehow, even better.
As King Krule, Marshall creates a moody, visceral amalgamation of punk and jazz (among countless other genres) and incorporates various art forms into his products, specifically his music videos. His videos alone are works of art; add music to them and they become transcendent. Each of his album covers are designed by him, too. He even included a 208-page book filled with visual art for his 2015 release A New Place 2 Drown. His career under the moniker took flight after the release of 6 Feet Under the Moon in 2015, carried by underground hit, “Easy Easy.” His next release, 2017’s sludgy and dark The OOZ, catapulted him to alternative stardom.
Marshall’s most recent release, Man Alive! makes his state of mind apparent immediately. It opens with “Cellular,” a glistening, bass-heavy rocker marked by weird horn blasts and electronic gurgling. While not outwardly downcast, the lyrics detail the disintegration of Marshall’s relationships with loved ones and his relationship with the world around him. The ominous atmosphere defines the first few songs of the album, reaching its apex at “Stoned Again.”
“Stoned Again” is Man Alive!’s crown jewel. The guitar-driven instrumental is sludgy and scuzzy, not unlike Southern stoner metal. Marshall’s voice is raw and downtrodden, if not angsty, delivering disheveled lines about the aimlessness of youth with drunken, stumbling precision. “Down in the dirt / I used to surf with my bucket from Kentucky / I had a scratch card, I scratched so hard / ‘Cause I’m feelin’ fuckin’ lucky, boy, I’m feelin’ so lucky,” he sings (shouts?) in the first verse, his disconnect with society around him almost palpable. With this song taken in the context of the previous two, it seems that Marshall is only going to spiral deeper into this hole as the album progresses.
However, it’s not so. Immediately after “Stoned Again,” the tone shifts. “Comet Face,” similar in sound and delivery to “Stoned Again,” marks a realization in Marshall that his mentality is not sustainable. The angst and disconnect with society completely fades away by the time “Alone, Omen 3” begins to play. Man Alive! comes at a pivotal time in Marshall’s life — he and his girlfriend and frequent collaborator had their first child in early 2019. “Alone, Omen 3” is a representation of this change. It is a somber revelation that the path of life you choose doesn’t matter — all that matters is you got to this point at all. His words are confident, yet his voice still seems unsure, with lines like: “The ache and thunder in the storms of your mind / Soak it in, for the rain will pass in time / nothing wrong in sinking low / You’re omen of paradise.” It’s as if he knows that his life and everyone else’s is going to turn out fine, but he just needs to see it in action before he can believe it.
The remainder of Man Alive! continues delving into Marshall’s revelation on “Alone, Omen 3,” reckoning with his new, uneasy outlook on life and trying to figure out how he will move forward. Unfortunately, the songs begin to wallow in lethargy, exacerbated by the fact that each song runs seamlessly into the next. But maybe that’s what makes Man Alive! special — it shows a man wrestling with his thoughts in real time.
As the album comes to a close, Marshall drops one more gem: “Energy Fleets,” a sparse, beautiful song about turning the pages of life, eager and unafraid to see what’s next. What makes “Energy Fleets” special, though, is Marshall’s slow devolution into nothing more than a distorted voice slowly chanting, “Such a funny life,” as if to say that it’s worthless to try to make sense of it because life is just going to keep getting funnier.