“I SEEM TO SINK LOWER.” That’s the first line on King Krule’s new album, The Ooz. But in Archy Marshall’s murky and garbled voice, “seem” sounds an awful lot like “sing.” Everything you need to know about the record is right there. The Ooz is an hour-plus voyage of submersion, a slow slog through Marshall’s enigmatic mind.
King Krule, Zoo Kid, what have you… Under any name, Archy Marshall has always released interesting music. His eclectic blend of genres — jazz, punk, hip-hop, bass, and sounds too esoteric to name — made him a critical darling by the time he was 19.
On his new album, his third overall and his second under the King Krule moniker, he leaves the hype in a different dimension and sets up shop someplace uniquely his own. There’s a nod to the past — Marshall’s father reads a spoken word passage on the back half of the album that name checks both of his past albums: “A new place to drown, six feet beneath the moon.” But The Ooz is light-years ahead of his past work, cohesive yet overflowing. It’s an extraordinary, if unclassifiable, album that reveals itself in new ways with each listen.
In the lead-up to its release, Marshall said The Ooz was about the “gunk” human beings unconsciously produce — earwax, hair, nails, the like. The accumulation of human waste doesn’t sound like it would make the most engaging material, and yet The Ooz builds a whole world out of it. The album is a swamp — sludgy, occasionally putrid, but ultimately a vibrant ecosystem. Hold your nose, because King Krule pulls you down under.
An odd but useful point of comparison might be the Antlers’ exquisite Undersea EP. On that release, Peter Silberman, and co. crafted a sense of deep-sea suspension; the music was expansive, shimmering, blue yet clear, like a great jellyfish floating through the Caribbean. The Ooz, by contrast, is claustrophobic, the water cloudy and green. Frogs and flies float through the swamp water, your vision constantly obscured by seaweed and detritus. While this quality gives the album an impressive consistency, it can also feel redundant; when all the music starts to sound of apiece, listeners may get lost in songs that seem nondescript. But when you glimpse past the gunk, forgotten treasures appears, knives and jewelry gleaming up from the silt on the swamp floor.
What does it actually sound like? Jazzy and bass-heavy, with a warm undercurrent of pop sensibility. The hypnotic “Logos” is built up from a snippet of elevator muzak. There’s expressive saxophone throughout, played by Ignacio Salvadores, who apparently hit up Marshall on Facebook with a YouTube video and got invited to play. Marshall handled production himself, creating a sound that’s thick and lush. It’s lounge music if the lounge is in the Upside Down, and Marshall is its Dark Sinatra. The mood is melancholy, not the lost-love melancholy of a jazz ballad but something more alienated. On “Locomotive,” he sings, “I wish I was people” over and over while waiting for the train. That inhuman sensibility comes back literally in the standout track “Half Man Half Shark,” one the brightest bursts of energy on the album. Other times he simply howls, “I’m lonely.”
Tom Waits, another polymath with broad taste who sang about the seedier side of life, is an apt comparison for King Krule. But Waits painted vivid and detailed character portraits of misfits. Marshall’s touch is more impressionistic, with images hanging unattached and more personal; he’s the protagonist of all his songs. The more important difference, however, is where Waits and Marshall stand relative to their subject matter. Waits romanticizes his sailors and pimps; his underworld has an undeniably glamorous quality. King Krule doesn’t maintain any of these illusions — he knows that his swamp is corrosive: “I saw some crimes when I was young and now my brain is gunk.”
It’s lines like these (and there are many) where Marshall draws the connection between human waste and mental decay. Both seem to be inevitable, but King Krule proves that decomposition can be beautiful. On the single “Dum Surfer” he sings, “Skunk and onion gravy as my brain’s potato hash,” an oddly fitting metaphor. The Ooz is an Archy Marshall hash, the strange scraps of his brain stewed into something unrecognizable and delicious.
Moreover, there seems to be a hope for some kind of redemption down in the slough. Still lonely, he calls out for anyone to meet him down in his murky waters, the very calling implying a belief that there’s someone out there to hear. “In soft bleeding, we will unite. We ooz two souls, pastel blues.” If genre, memory, and mood can dissolve into one another, why can’t people too? That’s The Ooz, Archy Marshall’s open invitation to submerge into in his singular mind and meld with it. It’s a dark offer, but one absolutely worth taking up. A MINUS