There is a shift in dynamic that occurs midway through Man Alive!, musician Archy Marshall’s third full-length release under his foremost musical alias, King Krule. Rhythmic, linear drum grooves and throaty vocals morph subconsciously into watery guitars with scarce, ambient backdrops. Beneath his signature murky genre concoction, it artfully creeps in as you drift into the back half of the album.
Perhaps a catalyst for such change, recent life for the 25-year-old South Londoner has followed a parallel trajectory. During the recording sessions of the album, Marshall learned he was a dad-to-be, and subsequently moved to the north of England to be amongst family in preparation. Work on the album, which began in London with producer Dillip Harris, continued at Eve Studios in Stockport. Having escaped the despondent metropolitan lifestyle that informed his nearly ten years of critically acclaimed prior work, Marshall found himself in a clearer, more positive headspace, continuing to add tracks well after his daughter’s birth.
According to Marshall, Man Alive! is titled as “an exclamation, about the times we live in”. On it, the sponge inside his head has been wrung dry again, though this time it drips with cut-and-paste intricacies absorbed from everyday life. While parts the album may allude to the outlook of becoming a parent, its whole is broader in scope and a result of a need for new direction as an artist at the height of success.
Man Alive! offers a refreshing breakaway from the encompassing narrative arc and monotonous, urban crawl of 2017’s Mercury Prize nominated, The Ooz. That album, touted as one of the year’s best, is both brilliant and seminal to the King Krule canon, although it retains a suffocating depth and excessiveness. Here, Marshall consolidates his efforts, with shorter, tighter compositions, stronger melodies, and fragmented lyrical subject matter that is free of any telltale context or overt politicization. There’s the opener, “Cellular” which recounts our often-fragile connections with the outside world. “There’s a French girl on my television / She’s crying in the palm of my hand”, he describes, backed by a deep drum and bass thump and spacy synth blips. The album progresses through a series of fleeting images – supermarket strolls, electrical pylons, head injuries – all detailed through Marshall’s distinctive baritone howl. Album singles, “Alone, Omen 3” and “Don’t Let the Dragon Draag On” are two of four Man Alive! tracks featured on Hey World, a King Krule short film directed by Marshall’s photographer wife, Charlotte Patmore. Drowsy, menacing slow-burners, they both navigate through his take on isolation and introspection, but somehow reflect a glimmer of optimism from the other side. “Sometimes you’re stretched / But don’t forget you’re not alone” he sings.
As Man Alive! closes out with the dreamy vacancy of “Please Complete Me” Marshall has led the listener through a final stage of musical metamorphosis that runs parallel to his journey into fatherhood and the next chapter of life. While new duties and obligations make it difficult to envision where King Krule will be taken next, it’s evident through Man Alive! that change can unexpectedly come to us at the most suitable of moments.
SPILL ALBUM REVIEW: KING KRULE – MAN ALIVE!