opinion by BENJI TAYLOR
Ginger. Paper-thin. Young. These might be the words that first spring to mind when you see a photograph of 19-year-old Archy Marshall, who goes by his stage-moniker King Krule on debut album 6 Feet Beneath the Moon. Listen to his music though, and a different cluster of superlatives probably form in your mind – hugely talented, vocally unique, angry.
Marshall really came to broader attention on Mount Kimbie’s sophomore LP on the track “You Took Your Time,” where his sinister poetic lyricism served as an impeccable accompaniment to Mount Kimbie’s subtly menacing synths and shrill snares. It marked out Marshall’s gorgeous drawl as darker and moodier than his tender years would attest, displaying a rhyming ability that has since earned him fans that include Odd Future heavyweights Frank Ocean and Tyler the Creator.
The soundscapes that Krule and producer Rodaidh McDonald create are simple, but weaved from a varied array of styles – from fifties rock ‘n’ roll, bluesy soul, to the more impenetrable electronic sonic palettes favoured by Mount Kimbie; elsewhere there are jazzy interludes, reverb-drenched keys and hip-hop beats.
Marshall contributes guitar – his riffs are simple, a deliberate mechanism that allows his gruff baritone to take centre-stage. His voice, seemingly hewn from volcanic rock, can morph and evolve in an instant according to the mood and melody of the song, though the default setting is a balrog-esque growl which seems mismatched to his slender frame. It’s best to leave preconceptions about Archy Marshall at the door: the contents of the songs displayed here are at odds with the image of a kid who chose his moniker based on the antagonist from a SNES video game (Donkey Kong Country’s saltwater croc King K. Rool), and hit his teens when CDs were going out of fashion.
“Has This Hit?” is the first of several album highlights, with the harsh cymbal crashes that open the track foreshadowing the raw and untamed direction that the song takes. The track finds Marshall’s vocal at its most inflamed and guttural. Come the 90 second mark, when the instruments are peeled back he wails “I know when I look into the sky there is no meaning/ And I’m the only one believing, that there’s nothing to believe in…” Marshall can also play the detached romantic, as he does on the excellent “Neptune Estate,” where the repeated refrain of “Can’t you bear just one more night?” is backed by simple percussion, gentle piano and an understated brass section.
The recurring key theme of the album, and one aptly conveyed by its title, is about reaching for something and worrying that you’ll fall short. There’s no denying that Marshall’s ambitions are stratospheric, but they’re laced with self-doubt – of barriers and ceilings that could impede his aspirations at any moment. He might be on the cusp of greatness now, but this debut was written over the course of several years when he was plagued by uncertainty. The lyrics are heavy with the desire to escape the banality of a dead-end existence: grey skies, dissolving faith, and thwarted ambitions.
The songs ebb and flow into one another – there are no out-and-out greats, but as a whole the album is a mesmerizing listening experience. At times there’s the sense that some tracks could have amounted to more, as if they are one hook or melody away from making them a masterpiece. Time will tell if Marshall develops a rhyming ability comparable with other eminent Brit lyricists such as Morrissey, but he’s not there yet.
Ultimately this is a great debut. Marshall’s lyrics are desolate and vehement, but McDonald does a solid job of ensuring that the instrumentation acts as a foil to the bleakness when necessary, providing a counter-redeeming edge to the desolation. On the basis of this record, there is a new colossal talent in town, and in time we will hopefully see young upstart King Krule elevated to become the dissatisfied and disgruntled voice of his generation. [B+]