Album Review: King Krule - 'Man Alive!'

I’ve had the distinct and noteworthy privilege since I started writing for The Mic of covering some of the finest records of the past year, a couple of which already sit as firm personal favourites. So when the new King Krule album gently landed in my lap like a ton of grimy blackened bricks, I must admit I did feel somewhat spoiled. Concise, streaky British post-punk? Atmospheric, impressionistic mood pieces? An artist whose work has had a particular emotional resonance with me since early adolescence? Yeah that’ll do. After the sprawling, potently depressive majesty of 2017’s epic The OOZ, Archy Marshall scales it back for an album which might at first glance emit lower stakes and less cohesion, but in fact remains just as bitter, oppressive and riveting – and, on closer inspection, is perhaps slightly more animated.

King Krule albums have historically followed the basic blueprint of starting off with three direct, driving, hooky songs to pull the listener into the world of the album. 6 Feet Beneath The Moon opened on his breakout single (and rare mainstream crossover) Easy Easy, followed by the mellow and lovely Borderline and fan favourite Has This Hit?. The OOZ upped the ante on this approach with its creeping mission statement Biscuit Town, post-punk rager The Locomotive and the unparalleled nocturnal romp of Dum Sufer. On Man Alive! Archy has not only mastered this formula but actually increased his scope somewhat, opening on not three, but four direct, bass-heavy rock tunes, bountiful with the energy and unique addictive qualities of any great set of King Krule songs.

Cellular begins with a flurry of disorienting sound effects before a dusty drum machine and pummelling bass drive the song into overdrive featuring stunningly surreal lyricism and a shout-along coda that I can see being screamed back at Archy from liquored-up venues nationwide, whereas Supermarche is an spiralling dub-inflected punk diatribe narratively fitting in the same wheelhouse as IDLES while instrumentally updating some of the best genre cannibalism of Johnny Rotten’s fantastic Public Image Ltd, gargantuan echoey bassline, spidery guitar licks and all. Stoned Again and Comet Face function as a sort of epic multi-phased Dum Surfer providing a skull-popping quantity of earworms between their melodic basslines, searing guitars and sulking sax lines. Both retain distinctive qualities and slightly differing characters; Stoned Again] is a funky bass-led barn burner, whereas Comet Face is a percussive and surreal tale of urban angst.

"Bountiful with the energy and unique addictive qualities of any great set of King Krule songs."

Archy’s new mastery of the form of a King Krule album becomes even more apparent after this bolt-out-the-gates is followed up by lovely interlude The Dream whose sodden guitars and syncopated piano warp then fade like vapour. This is immediately followed by the gorgeously open-hearted Perfecto Miserable that glows golden with tender, smudgy light like a lighthouse bathed in fog and cleverly stages itself as a desperate clandestine voicemail. Together these tracks serve to create a mellow, thoughtful contrast with the comparatively high-octane first half which served to both hook the listeners attention for these more contemplative moments and to provide canvases so busy and detailed that the listener would pay equal mind to the nuances of its less dense tracks.

The albums more contemplative latter half is no less filled with intoxicating textures and inspired ideas though. Nigh-on-perfect single Alone Omen 3 delivers a message of unity through misery but with such undeniable swagger and instrumental refinement you’ll wish actual depression sounded this damn good. The icy beauty of tracks like Airport Antenatal Airplane and Theme for the Cross is found in their meditative repeated motifs and cautious soundplay and further brought into focus through more direct guitar-oriented cuts like the velveteen cushiness of Slinky that erupts into synth splurge and guitar wailing in its cathartic second half. Likewise, the simultaneously restrained and euphoric Energy Fleets boasts verses populated by beseeching musings that give way to one of Archy’s most transcendent choruses to date with a chord progression like riding an infinite escalator.

Image courtesy of Charlotte Patmore

Proceedings only lag briefly for first single (Don’t Let the Dragon) Draag On which disappointingly sounds lumbering and lifeless alongside many of the tracks here despite its intriguing soundscape and core concept. The album quickly returns to form after that with its final act featuring two of Archy’s most peculiar and explorative songs to date, hinting both at an ever-expanding stylistic pallet and a variety of potential future directions. Underclass might just be the strangest change of pace in the King Krule discography with its doo-wop sway complete with finger-snap percussion and glittering guitar chords giving it the impression of a lost oldie gem, equally as exquisite and tragic as any Orbison number. The swinging horn line which enters at the halfway point manages to be completely enchanting, classy and not even a hint corny or cloying.

Closer Please Complete Thee presents one of Archy’s most vulnerable vocal turns to date over a foreboding, aqueous instrumental whose clouds and thunder are slightly parted by bright synth flourishes and the lovesick lyrics which hint at hope just over the murky, grey horizons. I can’t help but wonder what lies beyond those clouds now as they begin to part slightly, and Archy leaves us with just the smallest rays of optimism breaking through. I’m sure it’s going to be a beautiful day.