Archy Marshall – South London’s obstinately un-tropical and as ever enigmatic singer-songwriter has a score to settle – “It’s all about the gunk” he told one recent interviewer, “…the snot, the earwax, your spit, your jizz, your piss, your shit—all of that shit. You don’t ever think, Wow, I’m actually pushing all this stuff constantly—my brain’s creating all this gunk, this forcefield.” It’s a concept that pervades the very fabric of ‘The OOZ’, Marshall’s latest album under the King Krule moniker, and his first release since 2015’s more fluid, instrumentally focused ‘A New Place 2 Drown’. 2013’s ‘6 Feet Beneath The Moon’ offered an insight into the then teenage Marshall’s often troubled consciousness; a labyrinthine effort that ensnared the listener in Krule’s very nocturnal, urban soundscape, down darkened alleyways and dimly lit side streets, Marshall’s voice an intoxicating red smear against an otherwise bleak backdrop. And now, four years later, Archy’s second album under his King Krule alias no doubt demonstrates his merit, as the voice of a generation of discontent.
Sprawling and viscous, ‘The OOZ’ doesn’t shy away from the deeply personal; it sees Marshall struggling, emotionally cast adrift in the wake of an undisclosed love affair and battling against the drug-addled frustration of his own writer’s block, a 19-track confessional, if you like. Krule’s vocals remain front and centre – guttural, electrifying, and at times agonisingly delivered, they ooze (*ahem*) from almost every crevice, a receptacle for his stylistically abstract brand of skeletal punk-jazz. ‘The OOZ’ in fact features some of Marshall’s richest songwriting yet, under any name, and by some considerable distance. Opening track ‘Biscuit Town’ seeks to illustrate King Krule’s grim London landscape, Rizla in hand, coldly fluctuating keys jostling aside an East Coast hip-hop backbone. Referencing mental illness and his own failed relationships, even name-dropping a certain Italian footballer, Marshall’s inherent wit remains (rhyming “Bipolar” with “Motorola” and “Gianfranco Zola”) however it’s inevitably lost in the foggy darkness.
Elsewhere, on early standout ‘The Locomotive’ broken-sounding guitars creak and tremor under the weight of the track’s own thickly opaque rhythm, firing distant signals into the darkness. It’s also here that we’re reminded of Marshall’s own impressive singing capabilities, the 23-year old’s bruised mumble booming into an ill-tempered bark as the song lurches further toward an anthemic chorus that never actually arrives – “I Wish i was people” Marshall wails, “I plead just take me home”. Several noteworthy themes recur throughout the album, particularly the idea of trains, as a means to escape, and as a way out (and a way in), appearing in passing reference again on the album’s prickly, jazz-flecked lead single ‘Czech One’. Drafted from an unhinged electronic piano motif, Krule’s vocal harmonies appear breathy and close against a tentative background saxophone solo. With it’s almost claustrophobic digital ambience and softly spoken vocal centrepiece, it’s easy for the listener to become distracted from Marshall’s jarring lyrical efforts; his declarations of pain are ambiguous, yet bloody – “One time i was impaled forlorn / and thrown into a pile.”
Dive sirens and ghoulish laughter stage the descent into recent single ‘Dum Surfer’ – a visceral, and gothic glance at the darkest, and downright weirdest aspects of King Krule’s music. Existing somewhere between vintage 1960’s surf/punk and jazz-fusion, ‘Dum Surfer’ presents Marshall at his most demonic: gravel-gargling, acerbic and bile-inducing, it’s as if he’s puffed his way through an entire packet of Camel cigarettes during his vocal warm-ups. The track’s violent and disturbing bodily imagery only serve to match it’s acidic tones: he sings about his brains resembling “potato mash”, spewing his guts on the sidewalk.
Almost (dare I say) a victim of his own self-editing tendencies, the first two or three listens could leave one reflecting upon the inclusion of several drawn-out instrumental additions featured on ‘The OOZ’. Am I being pedantic perhaps? Considering the album’s overt run time, then perhaps not. ‘Bermondsey Bosom’, a provoking bilingual spoken word piece – which appears twice on the album, reminisces upon a fleeting romance in “the city of parasites”. Later recited in English by Marshall’s own father, it is an interesting segue between the album’s musical focal points, but it’s necessity is open to debate. You could be forgiven for bringing into question the offbeat, cartoonish qualities of ‘The Cadet Leaps’ or ‘A Slide In (New Drugs)’ – two pieces which would no doubt benefit from some time in the cutting room. However, such self-indulgence poses little distraction in Marshall’s grand scheme.
As headache-inducing as it is remarkable, the quizzically titled ‘Half Man Half Shark’ twists and writhes, much like its freakish namesake – a grotesque fusion of feverish, urgent electro-jazz, and aggressive dance floor beats. An homage to a similarly titled song once written by the singer’s Father – who sings backing vocals alongside his son during the song’s tribal-sounding intro segment, the track is a sonic and rhythmic standout on the record, bite and bark in equal measure.
The album’s title-track perhaps find ‘The OOZ’ reaching it’s emotional apex: featuring Marshall at his most lyrically tormented the singer’s vocals slip from behind the curtain almost unnoticed, languid and painfully weighted he cries – “Is anybody out there? / A lover’s sight / To be absorbed / But I let go, I slip alone.” Marshall’s internal struggles writing and producing this record are lucid – woven into the sonic fabric of ‘The OOZ’; it’s one of the finest British albums we’ve seen in years, no doubt earning it’s staggering run-time. Captivating and confessional, harsh, yet uneasily smooth, Archy Marshall again produces a complete and utter masterpiece of profoundly intelligent songwriting. The good ship Krule is about to set sail, won’t you climb aboard?
Words by Joe Bulger
Featured image courtesy of Alexandra Waespi for Pitchfork