On “The Locomotive,” King Krule, Archy Marshall or some combination of the two, sings “I wish I was people” with the intensity of someone who knows pain. Really knows it. As if they were an incarnation of it.
This is where Marshall, b.k.a. as his alter-ego King Krule, has excelled most as an artist. As a talented, guitar-playing vessel, he has let himself, at times, become seized by depression and mourning, allowing the human and artistic capabilities of these emotions to manifest themselves in potent lyrical and instrumental forms.
To listen to King Krule on his earlier releases, particularly on tracks like “Noose of Jah City” and “Easy Easy,” was to receive crystallized formations of some of the most difficult emotional sensations. In a Sophoclean sort of way, in the reflection crystals, the listeners saw inside themselves, maybe even purging their internalized emotions.
In this vessel-like state, Marshall was both cathartic and catchy. He presented with his smooth guitar pickings, guttural vocals and whatever other instruments thrown in from time to time a musical form of escape that didn’t shy away from dealing with what surfaced the urge to escape to begin with. Hedonistic catharsis at its finest.
However, on Ooz, this vessel-state sadly eludes Marshall, who instead offers his most personal release to date. And as it turns out, Marshall as a person is kind of not all that interesting.
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Indeed, on The Ooz, Marshall trades introspection for extrospection, observing himself rather than pondering and dissecting.
This isn’t all bad, necessarily. Sometimes, it’s just different. Marshall is still on the top of his game with his arrangements — his sparse, surfy-guitar styling accompanied by other instruments and genres is a winning combo. It just sounds good, especially when combined with his gruff, sludgy vocals.
“Slush Puppy,” with its plodding drums, dreamy guitars and Marshall’s own vocal variations, is a golden example of his songwriting process. The instrumental arrangement here almost has an emotional quality all unto itself. The missing ingredient is the lyrics, but in many cases, they’re either over- or under-cooked.
On “Slush Puppy,” Marshall simply repeats that “Nothing’s working with [him],” but we get neither the effect nor the cause of why that is. Other tracks fail to provide a solid answer either. On past releases, listeners were shown what it looks like under the brains’ hood when “nothing’s working,” but on this album, we are mostly told this is the case.
This tell-not-show approach unfortunately is one that is taken throughout many parts of the project. Seriously, he repeats some variations of “my brain is mush” too many times to count. But why, Archy? More importantly, what does the mush look like?
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The starkest example of this is “Vidual,” the album’s weakest track, coming around about 2/3 of the way through. The only adjective that comes to mind to describe the lyrics and vocal cadences is spooky. The signals are crossed, but the emerging image is violent, and later the song’s female subject “[scatters] like all the people.” Yikes.
Two tracks later, “Half Man Half Shark” repeats the sins of the former. Marshall makes clear he or someone is this “half-man with body of a shark.” This figure is apparently an outsider and also sad. “At least when you look at the stars they still glow well, not for me though.”
“At least when you look at the stars they still glow well, not for me though.”
These songs are the worst offenders on the album, but the crimes committed are present throughout. These external observations create an assortment of characters, times and setting — a nonlinear narrative filled with confusion.
This narrative seems to begin with Marshall meeting a woman on “Czech One,” who perhaps becomes the subject of many of the tracks that precede and follow. It’s one of the albums best tracks, guitar-less and chillingly austere. Still, like “Vidual” and “Half Man Half Shark,” it is a song about Marshall, rather than what is inside Marshall. And as we learn more and more about Marshall, there’s less and less to like.
He is, in many ways, a typical straight dude. Though he laments his own faults constantly, he never seems to try and fix them. He portrays the objects of his affection in positive lights and negative lights throughout the album like on “Biscuit Town” vs. “Vidual,” but in the end, she/them are just that — objects. He doesn’t give them any agency. If Marshall is trying to tell a story on this album, then such lazy story-telling won’t do, even if he does have a knack for drumming up subtext.
It’s also pretty sexist!
These flaws that King Krule exhibits are hardly exclusive to him. One could note similar traits about many artists that have and will occupy his niche as the guitar-playing, poetic, straight white dude virtuoso.
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The problem is there have already been too many already. And in times like these, it is hard to find patience for artists like Marshall, who assume their experiences are inherently interesting without explanation or artful posturing, and who show little to no evidence of trying to fix the flaws which they do admit.