(You Let The Album) Draag On
Twenty-six year old Archy Marshall has spent much of the last decade proving to be one of the most mysterious figures in the music world. Since 2013, Marshall has released two studio albums under the moniker King Krule, and in between the studio and live settings Marshall seems to keep himself to himself, which can be seen easily reflected in his music.
I enjoyed Krule's 2013 debut 6 Feet Beneath the Moon. 2017’s Sophomore effort The Ooz admittedly went over my head, being overshadowed by other massive albums from that year, most notably Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN., Tyler the Creator's Flower Boy and St Vincent’s Masseduction. However, The Ooz showed promise and potential and had (then twenty-three year old) Marshall experimenting with different sounds, clearly expanding on the space-age soundscapes established with his debut.
Now we come to his third studio outing; Man Alive!. Fourteen tracks totalling just shy of 42 minutes, Man Alive! is the latest addition to Krule's jazzy, hip-hop infused post-punk discography. Despite it hitting the average runtime of most albums, it feels a hell of a lot longer, and straight off the bat the biggest flaw of Marshall’s latest album is that nothing really… goes anywhere. Plenty of good ideas assert themselves throughout the track listing, but they are all either struck off too soon after we hear them, or they are continued until we grow bored of them.
From what I understand this album is not one to necessarily enjoy. Glitchy instrumentals with reverb-soaked spoken word passages take the spotlight on the most of the tracks. While not the tap-your-feet music that most would usually stick into their playlists, this record is genuinely interesting. Marshall takes his jazz background and combines it with an evident adoration of 80s post punk. Opener 'Cellular' is an understated, almost lo-fi track. A bass guitar and drum machine propels the song while Marshall’s monotone delivery echoes into the synth-laden backdrop. Stranger Things’ style synthesisers bounce lightly over the easy (easy) drum and bass instrumental, but it falls into the same trap that much of Marshall’s previous work does: it doesn’t really develop. Despite this, the instrumental is smooth and again highlights Marshall’s jazzy guitar work. As an opening track, it is hardly the most exciting but it does set the mood for the following forty minutes.
'Cellular' is followed up by 'Supermarché' which continues the thick bass tone so prevalent in the opener. Gentle cymbal work pans between speakers, as another flaw can be discovered here. Marshall has seemingly put a wet reverb on everything. Cymbals, guitars, synths, vocals. While spooky and cool for a short while, it becomes a little boring and in all honestly begins to feel like quite lazy production on Marshall’s behalf. If he wanted to go effects crazy on this project, there are a whole plethora of effects to choose from (not just reverb!). The vocal delivery on this track seems Gorillaz-esque in style, like it could be a b-side the group created after a drug-induced recording session. Crescendos build and build, immediately reminiscent of The Beatles’ A Day in The Life, but yet again these crescendos go nowhere. It creates tension but the results of that ever-growing tension never show.
'Stoned Again' has Marshall rapping over a noisy instrumental, this time showcasing his love for hip hop. Once again the jazz influence seeps through the cracks with the addition of the guitars and saxophone. While not a ‘banger’ album, 'Stoned Again' is the closest we get to one. Singles 'Alone, Omen 3' and '(Don’t Let the Dragon) Draag On' are easily the most enjoyable tracks on this project. "Alone" is a personal favourite. The chord progression
is sweet and the drums gently bob along. It is also one of the best vocal performances on the album. Keeping with his part-sung, part-rapped and part-spoken vocal passages, this track ticks all the boxes. It fits with the overarching dissonance and mystery of the rest of Man Alive! but displays more melody and structure. Cuts like this one make you appreciate the more abstract tracks.
"Draag On" feels weird and rather left field, but definitely gives you the smoking a joint on the sofa kinda feeling. I imagine a lot of these tracks (obviously the hip-hop/punk cut 'Stoned Again') to have been recorded in a hazy, smoke filled studio, littered with cigarette paraphernalia, vintage effects pedals and offset guitars. While the track listing is sometimes slow and always abstract, Marshall’s latest record does evoke a feeling in the listener. It is relaxed and moody, and in parts Man Alive! feels like the edgy cousin of Mac Demarco’s Another One (see keys heavy 'Theme for the Cross'.)
Man Alive! will certainly not be everyone’s cup of tea. If you want an album that is easy listening to, or you can have a dance to, you better go somewhere else. It is dissonant and atmospheric and drenched in reverb. Marshall is genuinely experimenting on this album and sacrifices nothing for mainstream appeal. It is a slow burn, and will take a few listens to fully get into Marshall’s headspace, but once you do Man Alive! is a clever and interesting body of work.
- 7.4 -
James Mellen is a very bored student in his final year of compulsory education, waiting to study music production and performance at degree level. He is passionate about music, guitars and music. He also watches films sometimes.
Thanks for reading! Slow Motion Panic Masters is a music, arts and culture blog created and edited by Ben Wheadon, a literature student and musician based in London, England.