A nineteen year old kid from London – rail thin with fiery red hair – sounds like a worn and weary soul. A voice from an older generation, so raw and emotional you can’t help but sit up and listen. That’s Archy Marshall, otherwise known as King Krule, who is releasing his LP 6 Feet Beneath The Moon on August 27th. Hotly anticipated? Surely. The hyperbole thrown around this young singer-songwriter has been immense. So far he’s not cracked under the pressure. Truly, he seems unphased by it, if he notices at all. Hyperbole, cockiness, and the steel of youth aside, it’s possible that King Krule’s early promise will bite him in the same way that other hyped acts have been bitten; the pledge and the turn go off without a hitch, but the prestige falls short as the final payoff doesn’t quite match up.
Early results are varied, with the wonderful blog Unpiano delivering a resounding ‘meh’ for 6 Feet Beneath The Moon. Jesse Pollock explains, “However, like all overproduced albums this one loses the fucked up, playfulness of a teenager with a great voice and comes off instead like someone told him what it should sound like,” while on the other hand he admits, “… this album isn’t bad by any stretch, it’s just not the album I expected.” Meanwhile, The Guardian’s Kitty Empire describes the work as “more about texture and space than traditional songcraft” in a four star review. What do those reviews tell me? While King Krule might crack souls with his deep baritone, he was in a “damned if he does, damned if he don’t” situation with a lot of early adopters. Some folks, like Ms. Empire, can live with that. Others, such as Mr. Pollock, cannot. Heavy is the head that wears the crown, after all. While the hype is hardly as immense as other indie acts in the past, it’s still palpable.
In the music world, folks often find it easy to discard their darlings after initial success. There’s really no other area of popular culture like it that I’ve found insofar as people loving to hate something just because other people love it. On the back of tracks like “Easy Easy” and “The Noose of Jah City”, King Krule captivated listeners with his stirring voice and raw instrumental sound, whether by electronics or guitar. Folks want that feeling again. Much like lightning in a bottle, it’s an unrealistic expectation. Fortunately for him, he doesn’t really seem to care what we think.
In the end, all of this babble puts the cart ahead of the proverbial horse. The majority of reviews are pending. While many more wait impatiently for 6 Feet Beneath The Moon, I sit here oblivious. “Octopus”? “Easy Easy”? “Rock Bottom”? “Out Getting Ribs?” I’ve never heard any of them. I heard “The Noose of Jah City” back in late 2011 and barely remember it, while we’re being honest. King Krule passed before me like a ghost while I whiled away inattentive and heedless, a self-proclaimed indie music aficionado neglecting one of the most interesting voices of the new decade.
I thought it’d be an interesting personal experience (and read) if I were to go back through three hits from King Krule’s young catalog to see what the buzz was all about. Hindsight is 20/20 they say, but what about when it’s much hyped about music that you’ve never heard over the course of a year…what about three years? Let’s find out.
“Easy Easy” and it’s simple guitar remind me of times when my friends and I would gather and try to “be a band.” The difference? None of us could write as well as nor sound like Archy Marshall. With a cynical slant that colors his work as much as the juxtaposition of his appearance and voice, King Krule bellows out of the speakers heavily accented and all that more appealing because of it. The slow rise of “Easy Easy” gives way to a radio ready hook, but the track maintains this crisp live sound, crunchy and grainy beneath the growing growl of those omnipresent vocals.
“Rock Bottom” begins with a peculiar dedication that I can’t quite make out due to Mr. Marshall’s accent, but then again I wasn’t listening to that part so closely. With it’s gentle intro, I was totally unprepared for the genesis of this track. Frankly, it threw me off and I found it off-putting to some degree, but the intrusion is short and on subsequent listens I found it quite compelling. The breezy sound of “Rock Bottom” is an intriguing revelation next to “Easy Easy”, which was dour all the way through and through. The a-capella delivery of the bridge from King Krule at 2:31 to 2:58 is the stuff musical bliss is made from – weighty and raw, with emotion dripping down the walls. Whoever heard that first at a label must have shit themselves with excitement.
Finally, the only track I (sort of) knew previous, “The Noose of Jah City”. Everything King Krule can be explained with this one single, at least to a three track newbie. Reverb soaked vocals distilled again in reverb, with a moderately uptempo beat to carry Archy Marshall home as he half-raps, half-talks his way through worry, introspection and death. Both “Rock Bottom” and “The Noose of Jah City” seem to be tied loosely into King Krule’s feeling on the establishment and a nagging sense of disillusionment with the position of this generation’s youth.
As he told Pitchfork at CMJ in October 2011, “It’s more about the idea that you’re growing up into this state without wanting it. Like, if I’ve been put on this planet the same as anyone else, why should I have to do that?” The interview brought other insight that I would’ve never expected – it really goes some way in explaining the inception and transformation of Archy Marshall to Zoo Kid to King Krule. I don’t know if you can label his sound disillusionist pop, but thematically it’s not so far from the pop punk bands you probably listened to in your youth. More refined, certainly, and better crafted, perhaps, but the underlying message of despair and disgust is still roughly the same. It’s a shame Billy Joe never sounded this elegant.
One wonders where King Krule will grow from here regardless of the debut LP’s success. For a young man who has recorded since the age of eight, in many different styles, it’s possible that he could totally re-invent himself from album to album a-la the Arctic Monkeys but in a much more profound manner. Unlike other such artists, however, I’m not sure he can shake that wonderful bass timbre, and wherever those vocals go I’m willing to follow.