King Krule returns with ‘Man Alive!’, a melancholic return to his roots

The artist sounds at one with himself, releasing an album reminiscent of past efforts with a more self-assured tone

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King Krule performing live at the 2018 REBEL concert in Toronto. Original image from The Come Up Show.

Courtesy Mac Downey

In 2017, Archy Marshall — the man behind the King Krule project — released “The OOZ.” In doing so, he pronounced himself as one of the most perceptive and challenging songwriters of his generation. “The OOZ” was confessional, vicarious and more refined than any of Marshall’s previous work, offering listeners a corrosive look into the London-based artist’s existence. Since this album, fans across the world have yearned for more music, only to learn that Marshall and his partner, photographer Charlotte Patmore, had a child together in March 2019. With all of this culminating in the background, Marshall released “Man Alive!” Feb. 21, an existential follow-up filled with dark thoughts, gloomy instrumentation and Marshall’s irresistible vocals. Though the new album may not reach the same heights as “The OOZ,” Marshall sounds at one with himself, and his tone is more confident and self-assured.

As with every King Krule release, the lo-fi production perfectly suits the tone of the music, muffling the lyrics with drowning instrumentation that ranges from smooth jazz to heavy guitar riffs. Marshall’s compositions are rough yet comforting, with a lo-fi feel that doesn’t align with any specific genre. With 14 tracks totaling almost 42 minutes of playtime, “Man Alive!” tends to drift in and out of Marshall’s consciousness. The album is quite diverse in its styles and instrumentation. Each track appears to dive into a variety of genres ranging between garage rock, hip-hop, post-punk and jazz, meditating on the anguish and struggles of Marshall’s entire life. 

The artist released three singles in the month prior to this album’s release — “(Don’t Let The Dragon) Draag On,” “Alone, Omen 3” and “Cellular,” as well as a short film collaboration with his partner Charlotte Patmore entitled “Hello World!” Marshall’s new release appeared at first to be a sort of redemption album to “The OOZ” — wherein Marshall seemed to improve upon the depression and melancholy that was exhibited in his previous work. Instead, “Man Alive!” represents a continuation of his sorrow, being just as anguished as any of his other works. 

The album opens strongly, with “Stoned Again and “Comet Face” presenting the post-punk manner of the album’s first half in an emphatic notion. “Stoned Again” is a harrowing recollection of Marshall’s adolescence, with lyrics such as “I’m stoned again / I’m low again” suggesting his unsuccessful experimentation with drugs — times where he smoked in hopes of being happy only to feel even more anxious than he started. The track is reminiscent of “Dum Surfer” and “Easy Easy,” and will stand as one of King Krule’s strongest songs. Shortly thereafter, “The Dream” brings the album back into a dreamy trance, with the rest of the album serving as blissful introspection. “Theme for the Cross” features a beautiful saxophone section that drifts over lingering vocals and ambient sounds like a car passing by an ocean breeze. It leads into another highlight of the album, the jazzy, melancholic track “Underclass,” which is as iconically King Krule in its melancholy as any of the artist’s music.

The album’s most interesting topic, however, lies in the continuous references Marshall makes about his partner and newborn daughter. On “Alone, Omen 3,” Marshall sings “Every minute, every second, you’re not alone,” which appears to be an attempt to reassure his family that they will not have to endure the hardships he endured in his past life. With heavily distorted vocals and slow instrumentals, “(Don’t Let the Dragon) Draag On” sets a dark atmosphere that displays Marshall’s depression clearly. “Man Alive!” concludes with “Please Complete Thee,” emphasizing the album’s sense of loneliness and isolation. In the song, Marshall expresses a desperate desire to feel whole in a world that seems to lack promise. If there is one evident motif throughout this album, it is that Marshall finds himself in a difficult transition period where he both fears and wants to protect his family’s future.

In any case, “Man Alive!” delivers quite a few great songs and a pleasurable listening experience. Though the album cuts filler tracks and is more condensed than previous efforts, there are still many instances where it falls flat or feels repetitive. Listeners hoping for a more positive evolution from “The OOZ” will find that Marshall is, unfortunately, still struggling to escape his own mind. That said, “Man Alive!” is a solid record that resonates well with the rest of the King Krule discography. Its themes of love, loneliness and emotion are nicely complemented by atmospheric production and smooth instrumentation. “Man Alive!” proves once again that King Krule is one of the most consistent, unique artists of our time.

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