Review: King Krule - 'Hey World!'

Owen analyses the comfortable, familiar melancholy of King Krule’s new short film, Hey World!

King Krule has gradually worked to isolate himself over the years. He’s worked to isolate himself further and further from the ‘voice of a generation’, sad-punky image projected by much of the British media into a refined and singular artistic voice that speaks in a loose and fluid language of high-brow songwriting influences, moody urban poetry and obtuse, blanched jazz. He’s worked to isolate himself from the public spotlight, gradually weaning the public focus on his work away from the striking pale, angular (and most notably youthful) face behind it and onto the merits of the terrifically alien landscape in the work he produces. He’s also chosen to gradually rachet up the exquisite loneliness found in his music, gradually germinating the seeds of isolation that were sown on his comparatively tinged-with-hope breakout self-titled EP. These hints are particularly prominent on that EP’s distant, shimmering centrepiece The Noose of Jah City, a track that shone, echoed and melted into oblivion. With Hey World! Archy may well have crafted his most isolated and alienated batch of tracks yet, but the result surprisingly stands as perhaps his most comfortable and atmospherically rich project to date.

"King Krule manages to conjure a hazy yet familiar world of deeply felt emotions and sorely missed connections."

The songs presented on Hey World! are ripe for overused music journalism truisms like ‘sparse’ and ‘stark’, but it’s difficult not to fall into cliché when describing music this harrowing and vivid yet intrinsically simple. King Krule manages to conjure a hazy yet familiar world of deeply felt emotions and sorely missed connections with only a guitar/ukulele, his emotive, endlessly intriguing voice and an understated understanding of empty space in music. This can be heard from opening track Perfecto Miserable where he intones the powerfully direct line “You’re my everything I have no words” in a stunned mumble, yet it’s the subsequent silence that reverberates louder than any of the previous lyrics and hammers the line’s meaning home. When he howls “But don’t forget you’re not alone” on subsequent track Alone, Omen 3, it sounds all the more believable as his voice floats by, accompanied only by a spare electric guitar and the thick, warm lo-fi syrup oozing over the entire recording. The jazzy and mournful chords on opener Perfecto Miserable which swing around a dirge-y counterpoint ring out as barely more than a whisper before the tracks lovely, swooning vocals dissolve back into silence.

Each of these tracks is interconnected by brief ambient synth passages, each of which clearly draw some jazzy inspirations, interpolating a sound akin to Stevie Wonder via Brian Eno; equal parts reverent and jubilant. A hazy half time ending section to Alone, Omen 3 drones on with soup-y reverb-drenched guitars carrying its haunted coda “Don’t forget you’re not alone” into the third track (Don’t Let The Dragon) Draag On like a gentle current. The more I re-watch and re-listen to this short film/EP, the more this track feels the most familiarly King Krule on the project, with its haunting, skeletal guitar arpeggios and chords that are fleshed out with sparkling intervals and embellishing notes. Archy balances the pallet of instrumentation with his gorgeously mature sense of melody, allowing the slinky earworm guitar line and his patiently crooned melody to drive his former jazz punk sound into eerie and ambiguous new directions that seem ripe for exploration on a new album. Final track Energy Fleets is led into by the album’s most jaunty passage before Archy lays into a simple, angular guitar line that segues into one of the album’s most ascendant and euphoric instrumental moments, murmuring “Such a funny life I lead” over the top of this twinkling guitar line that just seems to endlessly ascend.

"This short film offers a bundle of home-cooked demos and bare-bones renditions of some of his most soul-rendering and deeply singular songs yet."

It would be unwise to discuss this project without also taking at least some time to commend and analyse its visual aspect. All of the short film’s recording, direction and cinematography was done by Archy’s long-term girlfriend Charlotte Patmore. Her generous allocation of all recording responsibilities to VHS handheld recording cameras lends all the footage a murky and distant presentation, a choice that seems done not out of trend-hopping lo-fi gimmickry but as a genuine artistic choice made to compliment the music’s idiosyncratic vision of isolation and obscuration. All choices of settings and backdrops are unique and deeply strange, such as the gorgeous snowy footage on the opener where the fidelity leaves so much up to the imagination that it’s impossible to tell what some parts of the background are, and where exactly the snapshot is taken from. It’s like a childhood memory that’s so vague and formless it’s little more than a contextless string of fuzzy images and potent but confusing emotions. This subconscious combination of imagery and theming continues with the visuals on the druggy and otherworldly outro to Alone, Omen 3, where some of the film’s most ominous and nocturnal imagery appears: a low-lit Archy afront the foreboding chimneys of a nuclear power station, freshly bathed in darkness quickly gives way to shaky, drifting, close up shots of the moon in various different states on various different days, a concept that somehow compounds all the loneliness of what we’ve seen before with one simple image. The moon might grow, shift, warp and change as we might too; but it will always rise, and it will always set, alone. You could say that’s a good metaphor for Archy’s output.

Image courtesy of Charlotte Patmore

Altogether it’s difficult not to be excited about the future of the King Krule project and the prospect of a new full-length record in 2020, as this short film offers a bundle of home-cooked demos and bare-bones renditions of some of his most soul-rendering and deeply singular songs yet. Both the original material presented here as well as the visuals provided by visual artist Charlotte Patmore and the synth interludes which were at least in part handled by Theo McCabe all come together with incredible cohesion and a pungent and ethereal atmosphere.

You can check out the short film yourself here: