Feature image courtesy of King Krule Facebook (official)
By Christine Naprava
Every now and then a musical artist comes along who completely rocks your world and turns everything you thought you knew about music upside down. For me, that artist was King Krule. I can’t remember where I was or what I was doing or even when it was that I first heard his music, but I do remember the song: “Dum Surfer.” It was strange, moody, and oh so heavy and the attraction was instant.
If you’re curious about the king in King Krule, then keep reading. Archy Marshall, AKA King Krule, is a twenty-seven-year-old English singer, songwriter, musician, rapper, and record producer from Southwark, London, England. His music is extremely enigmatic, but the genres that best describe his sound would have to be indie rock, jazz fusion (this one is heavily evident), post-punk, hip-hop, and electronic. King Krule’s live band consists of guitarist Jack Towell, bassist James Wilson, drummer George Bass, saxophonist Ignacio Salvadores, and singer-songwriter Jamie Isaac, who mans the electronics.
This article is going to be a not-so-quick-and-dirty guide for anyone who’s looking to dip their toes in King Krule’s discography. He has several EPs, two live albums, and four studio albums to his name, but since my goal is to keep this guide “quick and dirty,” I’m only going to focus on the following three studio albums: The Ooz, Man Alive!, and 6 Feet Beneath the Moon. For the sake of organization, I’ve grouped the songs by album, beginning with the album that I feel offers the most to new listeners.
The Ooz (2017):
“The Locomotive” is the second song on The Ooz but could very well serve as the opening track. It holds its own and it rips my heart out of my chest and steps all over it every time I listen to it. As with many King Krule songs, the lyrics in “The Locomotive” would be nothing without the instrumentation and vice versa. The first lyric that always manages to step all over my heart is, “We all have our evils. We’re told just to keep calm.” King Krule circles back to this heart-wrenching declaration later in the song: “We all have our evils. We’re told just to keep cool.” Nestled between these two sets of lyrics, you’ll find my personal favorite: “I wish I was equal, if only that simple.” Before the song reaches a close, King Krule again tells you how he really feels, repeating the lyric, “I wish I was equal,” not once, but three times.
Now, onto the instrumentation. “The Locomotive” is a very up-and-down song in that it starts off slow, it suddenly picks up pace, and then, just as quickly as it speeds up, it slows back down again. This up-and-down quality carries through to the very end of the song, which I’ll get into more in a second. While this next point more so falls under the lyric category, I’m going to consider it a part of the instrumentation because it’s so unique to King Krule and his music. Know now that King Krule is no stranger to “scream-singing,” as I like to call it, and screaming in his music. To fully understand what I’m talking about, refer to the two-minute and sixteen-second mark in “The Locomotive.” King Krule’s scream-singing/screaming is never in vain; it’s a form of release that lyrics simply aren’t able to provide and completely necessary in a song as heavy as “The Locomotive.”
The reason you must absolutely listen to “The Locomotive” before listening to this next King Krule track lies in the fact that the former bleeds flawlessly into the beginning of the latter. In fact, the final four seconds of “The Locomotive” are the beginning of “Dum Surfer.” Listen for yourself and you’ll see what I mean.
“Dum Surfer” is quintessentially King Krule. I’d even go as far as to say that “Dum Surfer” is King Krule. It could be the fact that this was the first King Krule song I ever heard, but when I think of King Krule, I think of that cerulean blue album cover broken by a spike of pink and I think of “Dum Surfer.” We all know there are certain English artists whose accents are more subdued when they’re singing, some so subdued, you’d never even know they were English. King Krule is not one of those artists. His accent is as thick as his voice is deep and his baritone combined with his accent makes his music, “Dum Surfer” specifically.
Compared to “The Locomotive,” “Dum Surfer” is more consistent instrumentation-wise but that’s not to say it’s predictable. For example, you’d never expect a saxophone to make an appearance in this song, but it does, starting at one minute and forty-three seconds and that delightful jazz influence pops up throughout the rest of the song.
The music video for this one is such a treat. Everyone, including King Krule, is on the brink of death and the entire video takes place in a seedy lounge in which King Krule is performing with and for his dying counterparts. It could be the King Krule fan in me, but I get so giddy every time a very pale, clammy Archy rolls onto the scene in his hospital stretcher.
By this point, you’re probably waiting for me to quote my favorite “Dum Surfer” lyrics. Hint: They both feature the F word. King Krule doesn’t curse in all of his songs, but he does in “Dum Surfer” and the incorporation of the F word, in my opinion, only adds to the appeal of the song.
This next King Krule song comes with a story. I’d been a closeted King Krule fan for months, not intentionally but simply because no one in my circle shares my taste for more out-there, peculiar music. Long story short, I had just attended a Tame Impala concert in Philly with a friend and we were in her car headed back to Jersey. She put her music on shuffle and lo and behold, “Slush Puppy” came on. I could’ve cried. Someone I knew personally knew of King Krule’s existence and had liked one of his songs enough to add it to her playlist. The reason I mention this story is because I’m a firm believer that even the most conservative music listeners can find at least one King Krule song they like or don’t mind.
“Slush Puppy” begins with a breath, and much like an inhale, it sucks you in. You’ll notice that the opening lyrics are not delivered by King Krule; they’re the vocals of Norwegian-American musician Okay Kaya and, as Archy revealed in an interview, that’s not Kaya’s real singing voice. Her lyrics were sent to Archy a cappella and then pitched down. All throughout the song, Kaya’s vocals are beautifully juxtaposed with Archy’s.
Here’s a fun fact that I learned while writing this article: The lyrics for “Slush Puppy” derived from a poem King Krule wrote prior to writing the song. Naturally, this fact made my poet’s heart sing. Every lyric in “Slush Puppy” is heartbreaking and in turn, beautiful, but I do have a few favorites, which I will now list in order from least to most heartbreaking. Coming in at number three is, “Face me already, replace me already.” In second place, we have: “I’m a waste, baby.” Coming in at number one is, “I’m this worthless you see.”
Man Alive! (2020):
If “Supermarché” doesn’t make you feel like you’re on your way to meet someone in a dark alley, then King Krule hasn’t done his job. At two minutes and thirty-seven seconds, “Supermarché” is one of King Krule’s shorter songs, but this track still manages to pack a punch in what little time it occupies. As alluded to in the first sentence, this song is menacing from beginning to end. Sure, King Krule’s music is notoriously dark and heavy, but there isn’t a single lighter, brighter bone-in “Supermarché.” Although the song speeds up at the chorus, it never once loses its ominous quality. It’d be a crime for me not to mention that the bass is absolutely, positively unreal in this one. It sits smack dab on your eardrums and refuses to get off. Also, the brief burst of lyric-free instrumentation between the chorus and the second verse is as fulfilling as the bass.
“Comet Face” sounds like you’ve just resigned yourself to doing something very evil. Whereas “Supermarché” is good, old-fashioned evil, “Comet Face” is playful evil. Allow me to explain. You can dance to this song. It’s fast-paced, it’s heavy on the bass, and it’s even heavier on the jazz. That scream and consequent saxophone solo at one minute and twenty seconds drives me wild every single time. “Comet Face” is longer than “Supermarché” by thirty-seven seconds, but “Comet Face” goes by much faster, too fast, if you ask me. My advice: Listen to this here-and-gone song multiple times in a row to fully appreciate its beauty.
“Alone, Omen 3” is the closest the King Krule fanbase will ever get to an Archy Marshall lullaby. It could be the lyrics and their message or the soft, soothing instrumentation, but King Krule isn’t so much as singing this song for his listeners as he is singing this song to his listeners. The lyric that sticks out the most for me is, “But don’t forget you’re not alone,” which King Krule reminds listeners of once in the second refrain and twice in the bridge. King Krule further drives this point home in the outro as he repeats, “You’re not alone,” again and again. “Alone, Omen 3” is a slow, even-paced song all the way up until around the two-minute mark. This shift is absolutely necessary so that the song can end on a lighter, more positive note, which is rare in King Krule’s music. When King Krule gives you hope, you savor it.
Although King Krule wrote “Alone, Omen 3” for his daughter when she was a baby, the song’s message is delivered in a way that anyone, anywhere can seek comfort from it. For an even more impactful listening experience, I highly suggest you watch the music video for this track. You won’t be disappointed.
Oh, how I used to underestimate this next King Krule song. Like “The Locomotive” and “Dum Surfer,” “Slinky” follows “Alone, Omen 3” on the album, and the ending of the latter bleeds into the beginning of the former. Would you believe me if I told you there was a time when I used to religiously skip over this song whenever it came on shuffle? I never gave it a chance. I took for granted that the slow beginning meant a slow song all the way through. Then one day I listened to the song from start to finish and the buildup made a fool out of me. “Slinky” is not surprisingly laden with unshakeable heaviness. An example of a lyric that takes a hold of you and doesn’t let go is, “See, I have not seen another person for days. You’re the only one who’s held my gaze.” Another example of a gut-punch of a lyric is, “I felt this fear before. I miss my best ailment.”
The brasher, faster-paced part of “Slinky” is well worth the wait, but I’ll always have a soft spot for the lower, slower final forty-two seconds of the song. You don’t know if you should feel relieved or unsettled at the end of this track and for that open-endedness, I take my hat off to Archy Marshall.
6 Feet Beneath the Moon (2013):
6 Feet Beneath the Moon cannot be compared to The Ooz or Man Alive! This earliest King Krule album of the three is in a league of its own. Many similarities can be drawn between The Ooz and Man Alive! (that deep, heavy sound that sinks its teeth into you, the common themes of the songs), but 6 Feet Beneath the Moon features a lighter, brighter version of Archy that doesn’t shine through as much in his later albums. If any King Krule songs are going to make you crack a smile, then the songs off of 6 Feet Beneath the Moon are those songs.
“Easy Easy” was, if I’m remembering correctly, the second King Krule song I ever heard. The contrast between “Dum Surfer” and “Easy Easy” was stark, which only heightened my interest in Archy. It was obvious the guy had depth and range. The charm of this earlier King Krule track lies in the fast-paced, intoxicating bass guitar rift that carries from the very beginning to (nearly) the very end of the song. You know the song is building up to something, but you’re not sure what that something is. At one minute and twenty-four seconds, the song finally reaches its peak, gaining even more speed before simmering down around the two-minute and sixteen-second mark. While the beginning and middle of “Easy Easy” are hectic in nature, the final thirty or so seconds are soft, sweet, and totally unexpected. Before the song comes to a close, King Krule provides his listeners with a most important, powerful message: “Cause if you’re going through hell, you just keep going.”
“Dum Surfer” is my first love, “Slush Puppy” my second, and “Border Line” my third. There was a period of time not too long ago in which I listened to this song and this song only for days on repeat. “Border Line” is, dare I say, a cheerful King Krule song. It lacks that inescapable darkness that we’ve all come to know and love King Krule for. The song is so light, that you might even find yourself bobbing your head or tapping your foot along to it. The whole song is bliss, but the power that the final twenty-five seconds holds over me each and every time I listen to it will never be topped. Well done, King Krule.
King Krule isn’t for everyone. He’s not your average alternative artist and technically speaking, he’s not even an alternative artist. King Krule makes it impossible to box him into one genre or category. He’s like falling madly and deeply in love with someone who so isn’t your type. You can’t make sense of the appeal, but you know you want more.
If you’ve made it this far in the article, then I’ve got a treat for you: a King Krule live performance that you never have to leave your house to watch. This is likely the closest I’ll ever get to hearing King Krule perform live and for this YouTube video, I am eternally grateful. My suggestion is that you listen to studio King Krule first and live King Krule second, but all that really matters is that you listen to King Krule in any form you can get your hands on. He’s an artist you’re going to want to try at least once.
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Be sure to check out the full archives of Let the Music Be Your Guide, by Christine Naprava, here: https://vwmusicrocks.com/let-the-music-be-your-guide-archives/