The music of King Krule feels plucked from some sort of abstruse underworld.
Throughout the three albums under his royal moniker, the young South London musician born Archy Marshall has always leaned on his own misery as a driving force. His new record Man Alive!, however, was composed under slightly more celebratory terms; in the middle of making the album, Marshall found out that he was going to be a father. How does one reconcile, then, with such chronic anguish in the shadows of these life-changing obligations? Man Alive! quests for an answer.
All the tenets of a King Krule album are here: Marshall's vehemently monstrous howl and his abstract take on typical indie rock. What sets Man Alive! apart is that now Marshall is in love. "You're the only thing that makes life worth," he croons on "Perfecto Miserable," with such conviction that there's no doubting he really feels it. He begs for the companionship of his other half on the spare, somber closer "Please Complete Thee," in the wake of "everything just constantly letting [him] down." His words have rarely come off so gut-wrenchingly dependent.
The album's more desolate front half boasts some hip-hop qualities. The chugging bass of "Stoned Again" feels indebted to '90s rap royalty, as Marshall's conversational delivery even approximates a freestyle flow. The following track "Comet Face" is driven by an anxious electronic beat, as Marshall retells a story of waking up battered after a violent encounter in his native South London. Here, we have King Krule's rawness distilled.
Man Alive!'s latter half is the more tender side of Marshall, singing of self-medicating his woes and waiting for his mental "storms" to pass. Tracks like the stunning "Airport Antenatal Airplane" and early single "(Don't Let the Dragon) Draag On" captures a dreamier aesthetics, while others like "Theme for the Cross" and "Underclass" feature delicate saxophone solos. The album's two sides mirror conflicting personas in Marshall himself: the precociously distressed teenager who put out the first King Krule EP in 2011 versus the responsible 25-year-old—the longtime partner of photographer Charlotte Patmore and the father of their child. Those two personas aren't so mutually exclusive, after all, and Man Alive! presents Archy Marshall at his most complex.