King Krule Falls Into Space on the Subway
King Krule’s “Man Alive!” searches for a cure to loneliness on an album simmering with agony and fantastical astrological vibes
March 2, 2020
Why is King Krule screaming? That is, if he is screaming, what, when or for whom is he crying out?
King Krule’s third studio album, “Man Alive!,” is the artist’s latest exhibition of turmoil and introspection. It unfolds in a sonic meditation on a future that has already arrived, bearing distorted sounds of machinery, heartbeats of digitalization and the reverberations of a distant galaxy.
It’s an inventive soundscape already familiar to fans. It is a mix of experimental elements that delve into a deep-rooted state of misery and disaffection that seem to have molded themselves to King Krule’s persona. The title itself is a desperate, final cry of someone on the verge of being swallowed by death or discontent or the TV set. But, there’s hope in that assertive exclamation point, perhaps a defiant proof of survival in a world of coldness and fear.
The album is an ode to the alienated marauder, a midnight travelogue for an excursion deep into the metropole, a favorite destination or rest stop for a wanderer crisscrossing a city in the absence of light. But, where does the night come from, and where does it live? King Krule answers this question by recycling the well-worn imagery featured on his first two albums: in the subway, underground, perpetually bright despite a lack of day; in space, a landscape shimmering with the unknown; under the light of the moon, keeping watch over the wayward rambling on below.
He paints portraits seen before, though the poetry is pared down to describe only the essential emotions. At 41 minutes, “Man Alive!” is considerably shorter than King Krule’s previous two albums and favors repetitions of short phrases instead of lyrical narrative vignettes.
His music resides in many genres, just as he’s performed under a collection of eclectic names. King Krule, aka. Archy Marshall, began his music career as Zoo Kid and DJ JD Sports, later became Edgar the Beatmaker, then the Breathtaker (his current Instagram handle), before finally settling on King Krule, an abstract for the recurring themes of mistrust and disillusionment, which he summarized in a 2013 interview as “aristocracy at the very bottom.” Similarly, his music is imprinted by a patchwork of clashing styles. Remnants of the Zoo Kid pop up in references to animals (more so on 2017’s The Ooz) and childish rhymes. DJ JD Sports and Edgar the Beatmaker sneak in on opener “Cellular” with electric beeps in tune with commentary on a world overrun by technology. King Krule remains a breathtaker on songs including “Slinky” and “Theme for the Cross,” packed with longing for an end to loneliness.
Jazz mingles with the 80s era of pop that King Krule has turned anti with heavy-handed bass patterns. Defiant, warbling guitar reverb conjures a warped image of an underground room. The first four songs on the album vibrate with aggression, void of the tender-is-the-night atmosphere colored on his most popular songs “Easy Easy” and “Baby Blue” from debut “6 Feet Beneath the Moon.” It’s hard to get through this introduction, run wild with cynicism that’s maximized by “Stoned Again,” a temper tantrum with lines mashed by rhyming “yuppie” with “puppy” and “lucky” with “yucky.”
The latter half of the album is far more tranquil, a calm arriving with the stripped-down oasis of “The Dream” emphasizing the quiet side of loneliness. With each passing song, King Krule floats farther away from the realities of television broadcasts and commercialized supermarches and drifts into a sleepy, ethereal universe. “Perfecto Miserable” beautifully captures a feeling of gentleness as a futuristic lullaby whose main refrain is “You’re my everything.” Energy fleets like the title of the penultimate song — “Where are you going? / The day’s about to end,” he croons, getting ready to disappear in an outro built by vocoder, percussion and saxophone.
So, why does King Krule scream, and sometimes whisper, and sometimes sing like his voice is the last lifeline to earth? The answer is bound to vary with every listen, though its an album best used as an accompaniment for soul-searching six feet beneath the moon. The album evokes an old soul feeling lost arranged by the voice of a young rascal.
A version of this article appears in the Monday, March 1, 2020, print edition. Email Alexandra Bentzien at [email protected]