At only 23 years of age, Archy Marshall has made a name for himself in music circles across the world despite his modest catalog. The ambitious London based singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer has developed a unique blend of jazz infused punk rock that features elements of trip-hop. Since his humble beginnings of recording under the name Zoo Kid in 2010, Marshall would go on to gain the attention of listeners after taking the stage name King Krule. In 2011, he released a self titled EP, followed by his debut album 6 Feet Beneath The Moon two years later. Both releases showcased his gritty vocals alongside dark guitar riffs, suffused with bits of jazz instrumentals. With its gloomy and pessimistic manner, especially present in the lyrics, 6 Feet Beneath The Moon cemented Marshall’s somberly alluring musical style, quite similar to his low key persona. Under The Radar called it, “a harsh listen, but sounds fresh because it’s also unique”.
After the success of his first full length project, the young and expressive musician began to focus more on his production. Taking on the name Edgar The Beatmaker, Marshall started to experiment with hip-hop/electronic inspired beats and even rapping. He would release a couple of demos and an EP on his bandcamp under this identity. In 2015, A New Place 2 Drown dropped, foregoing the King Krule handle in favor of his given real name. Clearly being inspired by his previous side project, the album features a smooth and sleek Marshall on vocals with heavy hip-hop influence. The production had a variation of trip-hop and dance beats. With much more vocal manipulation and electronic soundscapes, this was definitely Archy at his most experimental than previous heard on any other King Krule album.
2017 would bring forth his second full length effort, The OOZ under the title King Krule. It truly was the return of the King, as musically Archy returned to his social, lyrical and emotional roots, but still carried it out in style with thematic depth.
“I seem to sink lower…”
This is the first line we hear Archy Marshall belt out, and it tells the listener exactly where he has been since the last time King Krule was on a track, low in a pit of despair. The OOZ opens with “Biscuit Town”, a ballad describing the woes of Marshall in an upper middle class London neighborhood, Bermondsey, once known for their biscuit factories. Whatever personal demons seem to be fought over and realized in this small South London community, all the narrator seems to be alluding to is a down hill state of emotion. It sets the tone for the entire mood of the album and is supported by a somber piano line that gives ways to a small flurry of instrumentation. It’s a simple but effective opener that captures all attention and prepares for what lies ahead, a 19-track masterpiece of realizing who you are in times of hardship.
“The Locomotive” is the following song, and probably one of the most emotional pieces on the project. Describing what would seem like just a normal day at a train station, we get an inside look of the mind within Marshall that is undoubtedly dealing with a combination of depression and trauma.
The platform sighs, ‘My empty emotion’
As trackies walk on by
I’m alone, I’m alone
In deep isolation
In the dead of night, in the dead of night
Waiting for the train
In the dead of night I howl
We all have our evils
We’re told just to keep calm
Curled up and feeble
Plagued by our brains, the internal sinking pain
I wish I was equal, if only that simple
This track is definitely more hard-hitting and dark than the opener, and you can hear in the vocal delivery. The bellowing of Archy in the last minute of the song paints a picture of disgust and frustration with the state he finds himself in. The twangy guitar riffs and the backing drums really power the sound of the song, like a train hustling on a track, while also adding a discomforting feeling of relatability. It transitions perfectly into “Dum Surfer”, the second single from this album rollout. Its spooky beginning quickly turns into a groovy jam that easily has the most catchy hook on the entire project. The way the song maneuvers in and out of its ghostly sound into the sweet and soothing jazz ensemble shows the genius of Marshall’s ability to craft a song by combining a variety of sounds.
From here, we get “Slush Puppy”, hands down one of the best written songs of 2017. It works like an anthem of self-deprecation, with its haunting screams of, “nothing is working with me” repeating over and over throughout the course of the track. It invites thoughts of one’s own shortcomings and failures, along with fetishization of being looked at as worthless. Its an absolute gut-wrenching moment on the album and sets itself apart from anything King Krule has ever written. It does not get super introspective or deep, and it relies on few words to get the point of worthlessness across in a weirdly beautiful manner. The addition of the slightly out of tune guitars and buzzing synth builds the tension within the song itself until the end. It crash lands gorgeously into a blissful marriage of screams and guitar wails, as it personifies the act of breaking down emotionally.
“Lonely Blue” is another highlight in the middle of the tracklisting, a slow but moody tale of heartbreak from a once presumably toxic relationship. Marshall begs to be freed from his loneliness and for his lover to not let go of their “kingdom of trash”. Despite the fact that this bond of “love” was not beneficial, the voice singing still wishes to go back to a familiar feeling instead of having to deal with the cruelness of being alone. The aftermath of this breakup seems to be chronicled in the track “Emergency Blimp” in which Marshall tries to deal with this breaking of ties. We get unfortunate reactions of drug abuse, cutting and insomnia. The punk flavored sound of this track fits just right with the lyrical content, as Marshall’s vocals shine yet again.
From here, we get the dreamy “Czech One”, layered with saxophones and high pitched keys that could fit into a Miles Davis LP. It’s the most jazzy song on the record, but what really makes it stand out is the way it ties in certain aspects of the album already mentioned. “The train’s motion” and “I can’t sleep at night” echo topics of previous tracks, but when he states “lover boy you drown too quick, you’re fading out of sight”, Archy seems to be reminding us of the theme of this work: sinking. Sinking to find yourself. Losing yourself to the bottom of a pit. While he does not come to this as an ultimate conclusion, the belief he seems to hold is that you can never fully understand the pain you are going through until you have reached your lowest point. But the question ultimately is, what do you do when you get there? The answer might be in the title track,
In soft bleeding, we will unite
We OOZ two souls, pastel blues
Heightened touch from losing sight
Swimming through the blue lagoon
Basking in the dark of night
Of depths unknown to be explored
We sink together through the sky (the sky)
“The OOZ” starts off calm and melodic, ironically the opposite of what’s being talked about in the track itself. The pain that his lover has caused him is so unbearable, he now “oozes” out this pain and grief. This demoralizing image could be a metaphor for the agonizing defeat one feels at their lowest point. It ends with a female voice almost whispering a description of Marshall’s lover “oozing” out her version of the grief she is suffering, bringing it together as an emotional ending. With the closing track we get “La Lune”, that features a cute plucking of the guitar that glitters itself throughout the song set to a lo-fi mix. Marshall seems to come to the final conclusion that elevating from this sunken state he has found himself in will be difficult and that he’d rather just avoid thinking about it all-together. The song trials of who the echoing of the guitar and the sound of rain.
The OOZ displays depression and grief at its most heightened state, and does it in a hauntingly beautiful fashion. Emotionally, it can be draining. In a year where society seemed in the most hopeless of states, many can relate to the message of absolute helplessness. In one of the worst years of my life, I found this album comforting. Relating to grief and sorrow is one of the most comforting things ever.
The emotional output of this album is just one facet of its brilliance. It really presents so much for the listener to engage with: its themes, the actual music itself, the progression of Archy Marshall as both a musician and songwriter. The biggest gripe I had about the album on my first listens was its length. Running at just over an hour long with 19 tracks, it seems a bit overdone at first. The more I listened onward however, the more I appreciated the details the album has to offer. For example, both interludes in the tracklisting are pleasant and needed for the storyline of the project.
Musically, King Krule as an artist has matured immensely from his last effort. Everything on The OOZ is more organized and flows well both, sonically and thematically. 6 Feet Beneath The Moon had the lyrical content at times and even some moments of excellent soundscapes, but it lacked the two existing together coherently. This latest LP not only offers Archy at his most vulnerable, but also at his most ambitious. Being able to tie down all the themes and usher them forward with the perfection of his unique style makes The OOZ my album of the year for 2017. He has all the tools to make the themes of this album to stand out creatively, thanks to his genre blurring sound. At 23, it’s exciting to know that a musician of Marshall’s caliber has so much more to offer.
FAVORITE TRACKS: “The Locomotive”, “Slush Puppy”, “Lonely Blue”, “Emergency Blimp”, and “Czech One”
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Dylan Rodriguez is a music enthusiast from Orange County, California who enjoys crying to sad songs and attending live gigs. Thinking about eating pasta is his most noteworthy talent. If you enjoy laughing at subpar content and unapologetic music takes, follow him on Twitter @dylanbruhriguez.