Personal growth drives musically complicated release
It’s been three long years since Archy Marshall last slipped into his persona as King Krule and dropped an album. In that time, his lifestyle has done a complete 180, leaving the most recent King Krule release, Man Alive! as a reflection of this period of maturation and personal growth.
During the production of his fourth studio album, Marshall learned of his impending fatherhood, news which changed not only the entire release but his overall attitude toward life. While the first four tracks are reminiscent of punk and the violence expected of King Krule, there is a significant shift following “The Dream” in which Marshall begins to speculate on his future with cautious optimism.
Throughout King Krule’s discography, there is this overwhelming desire to drift away, which often manifests in both fury and fear. Man Alive! is no exception to the precedent, the depiction of assault in “Comet Face” is evidence enough, however, there is a hint of hopefulness that did not exist prior to Marshall’s fatherhood. For example, in “Airport Antenatal Airplane,” Marshall suggests the jet-set life is getting tiring as he sings, “passport in my pocket’s getting old/ feel the weight of the world dissolve.” It is this slight progression toward the light that makes the album so enjoyable.
Musically speaking, Marshall outdoes himself. The bass work on the record from top to bottom is incredibly strong and it’s featured prominently, especially in tracks like “Cellular” and “Supermarché.” The sonic aesthetic allows the music to build a mood and tone to accompany Marshall’s dark and sometimes sadistic lyrics. This comes to a head in standout song, “Energy Fleets.”
While Marshall plays nearly all of the instruments on the album, enlisting Ignacio Salvadores to play saxophone was perhaps the smartest decision made throughout production. The brass solos and highlights on tracks like “Theme for the Cross” add something inexplicable to the overall tone of the record and set it apart from other new releases.
Vocally, Marshall does not radiate much control or training; however, he is unafraid to experiment with his voice. At times, it’s gravelly and bordering on yelling while at others, it’s reminiscent of rap or spoken word. One of Man Alive!’s greatest accomplishments is the inclusion of vocal samples, like the frantic voicemail recordings used on “Perfecto Miserable.” Where Marshall lacks technique and tone, he makes up for it in filling space with other, sometimes intelligible, smartly placed vocal work.
The album’s downfall comes in its listenability. On first listen, it likely sounds like a mirage of undiscernible sound. In order to appreciate it or even begin to understand it, listeners need to be committed to getting through it a few times. This isn’t a transparent album where its strengths are immediately apparent; it requires effort.
The key to understanding Man Alive! comes from its duality. Everything is double-edged on this record. Where one track is post-punk, the next is rooted in jazz. Where “Perfecto Miserable” reads like a love song with lyrics like, “you’re my everything/ you make me feel alright,” the penultimate track, “Energy Fleets,” describes self-violent acts with Marshall singing: “I sit soaking in the tiles/ I bleed/ watch you flow right out of me.” There is no sour without the sweet on Man Alive! and it’s this better balance of light and dark that makes this release different from all the King Krule that came before.
At the end of its 45-minute run time, the album leaves listeners feeling slightly better than it found them. There is something delicious about the aggression of Marshall’s lyrics and delivery, but rather than solely living in that despair, Man Alive! ends with a lightness. As all the instruments cutaway, Marshall is left with one final cry of “please, complete me,” before the guitars come back in and gradually fade out. Throughout the record, King Krule has been searching for something, whether that be reassurance or stability or simply hope itself. In “Please Complete Thee,” he finally asks for the help he so desperately needs, which leaves listeners with a fulfilling sense of hope of their own.