Written by Michael Kundrath
“And my bed through that window, I hit zero. This guiltless love, let sins flow, Fool me, you fool me. I descend smoothly. My concrete bed beckons and can you hear me? I was born in seconds and do you fear thee?”
Archy Marshall, the scrawny, unsteady, baby-faced 19 year old East Londoner better known as King Krule, writes music with an intense conviction and authenticity that makes it clear that when equipped with his guitar, vintage amp, and a microphone, he’s quite comfortable exposing his soul. It’s refreshingly evident on his debut full LP, 6 Feet Beneath the Moon, which dropped over the summer via True Panther Sounds, a fitting home base alongside indie acts like Delorean, Real Estate, and Cloud Nothings.
Formerly performing under the name Zoo Kid (he released an EP back in 2010), Marshall officially switched to King Krule in 2011. Growing up with artistic parents who played instruments, read poetry and listened to albums by De La Soul and The Pixies on the regular, Marshall was exposed to a diverse array of art, music, and culture from an early age that shaped his musical identity. He started singing at age 8 and was writing songs by 12, finding inspiration in a variety of genres. He cites musicians from Joe Strummer and Chet Baker to Gang Starr as major influences on his songwriting style, which is reflected in his music in subtle yet captivating ways. By 19, he’s crafted a unique style of strikingly passionate songwriting that is unmistakably all his own.
On 6 Feet Beneath the Moon, which was produced by Rodaidh McDonald (Gil Scott-Heron, Adele), King Krule’s sound is a fascinating blend of Billy Bragg, The XX, J Dilla, and Unkle, intimately colored with an invigorating punk rock attitude and aesthetic, phased out guitar, thick but minimal beats, dark bass lines, warm piano samples, smooth jazz tones, and a poetic and tuneful lyrical attack that ranges from singing to what sometimes feels like his take on spoken word. He also has the heaviest British accent that you’ve ever heard…. You still with me?
At first his voice can be jarring, trust me. Though if you aren’t turned off right away and tend to be intrigued by artists that are definitely doing their own thing, you may find King Krule to be the most punk rock thing you’ve heard in a long time.
Lyrically, he’s a bit of an emotional mess. What 19 year old isn’t? He touches on feelings of love, anger, sadness, regret, and unrest throughout the record. Not to mention girls, the police, and death. It often feels like he’s reading straight out of his diary, but despite revelations of insecurity, his heavy-hearted, balls-to-the-wall approach to the way he delivers his lines leave listeners hanging on most of the words. It’s actually quite beautiful.
Marshall is also one of the most fascinating young guitar players to emerge in some time despite not being a particularly technical player. His method is barebones but his sound and unique style of richly colored jangly and strum-y chords are soaked up in warm hypnotic tones and feel like they’re being projected straight from his heart. There’s a palpable sense of self-awareness. As he casually mentioned in a recent interview, “My weapon is my guitar, man.” He pours himself into his instrument in a Johnny Cash – one man band – sort of way that is seldom seen anymore.
I wish I could say this album blew my mind from start to back, the way I know it could have if he had tightened up the looser songs and ultimately been more selective of which tracks were good enough to get the seal of approval before sending it to print. Straight up: There’s some filler here.
About 70% of the record hits hard, pulls you into King Krule’s world and wants you to stay there. Highlights include “Easy Easy,” with its signature King Krule guitar sound and abrasive strumming style that immediately draws you in; “Border Line,” with its smooth and mesmerizing guitar tones and automated kick and snare feel; “A Lizard State,” with the fantastic drumbeat and jazzy horns sections; in a addition to a number of other songs worth spending time with, like “Krockadile,” “Out Getting Ribs,” and “Ocean Bed.” These songs feel fully realized and have earned their spots on the album. Unfortunately the rest pretty much falls flat in minor, but ultimately significant, ways; trailing off into vast, noodle-y, lackluster musical landscapes that ultimately leave me kind of disappointed and tempted to flip back to the songs that really work.
Which gets me to my biggest gripe: the record clocks in at around 50 minutes, 14 tracks. I can’t figure out why. Easily, it could have been a stronger record with 10 tracks at 30-35 minutes. It’s puzzling. But I admit that I’m intrigued and will be following his career. If he keeps growing as a songwriter, and drops more balanced records down the road, he could legitimately blow up. Remember, he can’t even legally drink in the US for another 2 years, he’s that young. And in the short time he’s been around, he’s already managed to earn praise from high profile artists like Beyoncé and Earl Sweatshirt, collaborate with Mount Kimbre, and perform on national TV, like The Late Show With David Letterman and Conan, so I have no doubt that we’ll be seeing more from King Krule.
Just please do me this favor… No Beyoncé collaborations or I’m out.