Archy Marshall, who records under the name King Krule, has spent the better part of his career translating brokenhearted laments into the language of guitar-centric indie rock. After a brief stint as Zoo Kid, Marshall released his first album under the King Krule moniker, “6 Feet Beneath the Moon,” in 2013 at the age of 19. The album offers an array of sounds, but the selling point comes in the form of Marshall himself. His deep, bellowing voice snarls, yelps and serenades through each song. Although rather basic in composition, the album stands out because of Marshall’s voice and impeccable songwriting.
Four years later, Marshall returned under the King Krule moniker with “The OOZ,” the album equivalent of Dante’s “Divine Comedy.” Soaked in field recordings and reverb, each song descends into Marshall’s psyche until it reaches rock bottom. Each song melds together to form a cohesive universe for the listeners to lose themselves in. Unlike his dominating presence on the debut, Marshall hides within the mix of each song. He sounds immersed within this personal hell, unable to leave his own creation.
“Man Alive!” King Krule’s third album released on Friday, acts as an escape for Marshall from the heavy themes of “The OOZ” and a shift into rejoicing in a better tomorrow. When listening to “Man Alive!” this production detail may never seem apparent to the listener. Despite its attempts at livening up the traditional King Krule experience, the end product of “Man Alive!” arrives emotionally despondent yet happy, often at the same time.
“Man Alive!” aims to celebrate the arrival of new life, while also mourning those who have been lost. Marshall, at the time of release, welcomed his first child and lost several friends. This juxtaposition of life and death defines the tone of the album, which at first glance appears basic for a King Krule project. The album does not unify into a cohesive work like “The OOZ.” Instead, each song focuses on the microscopic level. It fails to amount to anything on a larger plane, but it does pack in a few highlights. The opener, “Cellular,” drops you right where “The OOZ” left off, with a mournful guitar line and some field recordings fusing together. It then gains a pulse with a paranoid Marshall singing about the overwhelming feeling of constantly being connected. “Stoned Again” packs Marshall’s rage-fueled wasted youth and drug abuse into a three-minute lament filled with shrill guitar lines, a few rap verses and a shriek that could be mistaken for a wolf’s howl. Its despondent exterior hides what may be the most heartfelt lyrics on the album.
The album concludes with the song “Please Complete Thee,” which harkens back to the King Krule of yesterday. The song plays like a straightforward ballad as “Out Getting Ribs” or “Czech One” do, yet it builds upon both narratively. Lyrics like “This place doesn’t move me” and “Everything just constantly letting me down” mark an evolution for Marshall. He bookends the song with the request “Please complete me.” It may be a large request, given the potent sadness that radiates from Marshall’s music, but it speaks volumes to hear him realize that he cannot deal with this burden anymore. This was a powerful ending for a middling album.
Overall, “Man Alive!” serves as a thank-you to the fans who have stuck with Marshall through his weird artistic metamorphosis. It might not win over any new fans, and people turned away by “The OOZ” will find little reason to return. However, it sets the stage for a new era for King Krule. Marshall, now in a relationship and with a newborn daughter, has settled into a new role as father and partner. “Man Alive!” sees Marshall turning a page on the potent sadness and turmoil that defined “The OOZ.” Despite being rough around the edges, this record is the sound of a man learning how to live again. It was never easy being king, but “Man Alive!” makes way for a new era of royalty.