By Keller Bradberry
For the past decade, King Krule (also known as Archy Ivan Marshall) has effectively distinguished himself in a genre all his own. He describes his fusion of jazz, punk and calypso as “Blue Wave” to MTV News. His infatuation with the color blue and all of it’s literary representations has been consistent in his musical career and is evident in his lyricism and instrumental shadings.
In an interview with Flaunt Magazine, Marshall said, “I used to read lots of poetry and sit there for ages trying to decipher the meaning…you can see how their metaphors develop and understand their uses,” elaborating that, “I learnt to do that for myself.”
Like many great works of literature, his ability to paint a vivid and emotionally visceral picture with words captivates listeners, and the instrumentals that accompany only work to emphasize his imagery of his struggles with mental illness, and alludes to prospective moments of peace and serenity within that struggle.
King Krule is not for the light of heart; his melancholic tracks show and tell of isolation, frustration and heartbreak, but within these songs is an unmistakable rawness in his lyricism and composition. He sings from the heart with whatever tone that may include, like his rebellious punk growl found on “Easy Easy” from his 2013 debut full-length album 6 Feet Beneath the Moon.
Another tonal direction he takes is embracing his blues influence to incorporate his deep, morose voice into the melancholy blue wave of strings and synths on songs such as “Logos” from his 2017 album The Ooz. The various influences and directions he employs in each track prevent them from melting into one.
6 Feet Beneath the Moon has the unique duality of warmth in feelings of blueness. Throughout the album he speaks to “Baby Blue,” who represents the romantic interest which he alludes to several times. The track, named “Baby Blue,” is a descriptive ode to this character. This song is heartfelt and emotive, as he sings, tenderly: “Girl I could have been something to you, would have painted the skies blue,” suggesting that if his affection were to be reciprocated, he would devote his time only to her. His delicate voice only sinks to his characteristic growl by the last verse, as he bemoans, “My heart was stopping, she was throbbing.”
While 6 Feet was his breakthrough album, vividly portraying tales of sorrow in urban South London, The Ooz is the revelation of his growth as an artist and growth from his 19-year-old angst found on his prior album. Released in 2017, it gathered the appraisal of many critics, winning “best new music” in its review by Pitchfork. It’s still gritty and raw in places, yet maintains the marks of Krule’s ability to orchestrate and combine the facets of songbuilding; melodies, rhythms and sounds to paint pictures as the bluesy drums and keys unzip the opener from the album. “Biscuit Town,” he begins, “I seem to sink lower.”
His ‘Blue Wave’ ebbs and flows stronger than ever in The Ooz, building imagery of the ocean and the moon while illustrating the magnetic and thematic relationship between the two. In “The OOZ” he tells his mutually blue lover, with home he finds solace, that: “In soft bleeding, we will unite. We OOZ two souls, pastel blues.” He describes their romance: “Heightened touch from losing sight. Swimming through the blue lagoon.”
One interesting continuity (in this album that references all of his previous works) is a poem that appears on not one, but three different songs: “Bermondsey Bosom (Left),” “Bermondsey Bosom (Right)” and “The Cadet Leaps.” All are sung in different languages, Spanish, English and Tagalog, respectively. The lyrics read “A new place to drown,” a reference to the name of his album released under his real name, Archy Marshall. Secondly, he quotes his debut album: “Six feet beneath the moon, he arose a blood sucker.” Lastly, he references a track called “Portrait in Black and Blue” from his self-titled EP: “Painting black and blue objects with projections of himself.”
While his ambiguity in lyricism leaves much open to interpretation, he seems to be developing a theme of how he relates and portrays himself through these colors. This however, is just one case of all the allusions and symbolism that pervade his discography.
As the decade draws to a close, so does Krule’s decade-long cinematic “Blue Period,” as he continues to grow and change musically and personally. This past March, he and his girlfriend Charlotte Patmore welcomed their first child. On Nov. 19 he posted a video filmed by Charlotte; with backgrounds of nature and industry, moors and nuclear silos, he releases four stripped-back songs that demonstrate a peace of mind achieved by Marshall. It’s a breath of fresh air, as he sits on a wooden chair in front of overcast skies with an acoustic guitar and sings, “You’re my everything, you make me feel alright” on “Perfecto Miserable.”
After a genteel piano interlude, he begins the next track in front of smoldering silos: “Alone, Omen 3.” It’s a definite shift from the ocean of self-pity characterized in his earlier works, but not without it’s reference. He sings: “The ache and thunder in the storm of your mind—soak it in, the rain will pass in time.” However, in an unusual turn for Krule, he comforts: “Nothing wrong with sinking low.” While he previously sung of drowning helplessly in his blues, he’s learned to see the sun inevitably peeking through the clouds and to grow from it. He offers an important lesson to anyone struggling with the blues in the chorus: “Don’t forget you’re not alone.”
In the third track “(Don’t Let the Dragon) Draag On,” he references a track from 6 Feet, “Bathed in Grey,” and offers his thoughts towards those who may be going through the same things he once did in the ongoing trials of rebuilding mental health: “I hang my head for those who ain’t been held too close in times of pain.”
The uplifting final track, “Energy Fleets,” is light-hearted, which as I previously stated is not thematic of Krule; however, it’s exciting to see him grow as both person and musician in this way. With a simple and sweet chord progression, he turns to the new chapter as he sings, “Why stop breathing? The page is about to turn.” He acknowledges the trivial nature of self-absorbed pity in the chorus: “Such a funny life I lead.”
What I believe makes King Krule’s discography so unique and special is that it’s such a consistent and comprehensive chronicle of his struggles with mental health, and its latest chapter documents his triumph over his blues. He doesn’t cut corners while he details his personal shortcomings and inner conflicts, which elevates his music with an unmistakable quality of honesty that you can only get from writing from the heart and not to the masses.
With an international tour set to kick off next March, I’d expect the next album from Krule to be worthy of praise, and particularly satisfying for those who have related to his message thus far.
Featured images via King Krule, Genius and Michael Aurer. Collage by Keller Bradberry.